Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Think globally, print locally

I've spent the last week or so covering the international news desk over at Globe Towers. Filling in usually only lasts a day or two, but we're so thinly staffed that even one medium-term absence leaves us scrambling. We muddle through somehow, though, and changes are on the way that will fundamentally rearrange who does what and where.

One nice thing about doing international news is having all the news wires at your fingertips. As I've written previously, the goal is to find interesting articles that tend more toward analysis and insight than spot news, so having AP, AFP, Reuters, Bloomberg, DPA, the Washington Post and the New York Times to pick from is a great help. With one day left until the regular guy returns to his post, I wanted to share some of the more interesting stories I used in the section.

Long reads

One article I used today dealt with the dignity and lack of outward emotion Norwegians have shown during the trial of mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik. This passage sums it up nicely:
Thomas Hylland Eriksen, a professor of social anthropology at Oslo University, said that by treating the trial with "respect and decency," Norwegians are showing defiance against Breivik by standing up for values at the core of their national identity.
When he called Breivik "pudgy" in Norwegian media before the trial, Eriksen said some people took offense.
"I received mail from people who said 'you shouldn't say that about his appearance. He has a mother. We have to treat him with respect."'
Can you imagine someone like Osama bin Laden or Timothy McVeigh receiving that kind of respect during a trial in the US?

I also used a feature on atheists in the Philippines, one of the most god-botheringist places on the planet. The quotes from the Catholic bishop couldn't be more perfect if they came from a pantomime.
Bishop Ted Bacani, vice chairman of the Commission on Doctrine of the Faith of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, sniffed that while atheism was an option, it would not take root in the country where belief in God was deep-rooted.
“The atheists may be growing, but they are still statistically insignificant,” he said. “You are like a crazy person if you do not believe in God.”
In a similar vein, there was this look at female circumcision among a Muslim sect in India -- as though girls in that country didn't have it hard enough already.
The anti-Khatna movement gained momentum after Tasneem, a Bohra woman who goes by one name, posted an online petition at the social action platform Change.org in November last year.
She requested their religious leader, the 101-year-old Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, ban female genital mutilation, the consequences of which afflict 140 million women worldwide according to the World Health Organisation.
Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin is the 52nd Dai-al Mutalaq (absolute missionary) of the community and has sole authority to decide on all spiritual and temporal matters.
Every member of the sect takes an oath of allegiance to the leader, who lives in western city of Mumbai.
When contacted by AFP, Burhanuddin’s spokesman, Qureshi Raghib, ruled out any change and said he had no interest in talking about the issue.
“I have heard about the online campaign but Bohra women should understand that our religion advocates the procedure and they should follow it without any argument,” he said.
That's one of the more gender-equal, woman-friendly Islamic sects? Yikes. Just shut up and accept your mutilation, woman -- it's what Allah intended.

There are plenty more long reads I'd like to use. The Washington Post, New York Times, Reuters and AP all have great deep reads, but space is obviously at a premium in the print product. It's all the more so during the week with just two pages, at least one of which loses news hole to an ad (which is even paid for -- sometimes).

One such article is this one from AP on a US woman providing inspiration for battered women in China. It comes in at 2,100 words and I highly recommend you read it, but you likely won't see it in our newspaper as an empty page only has room for about 2,500 words or so.

News you can use

Not everything can be an in-depth read, though. Even as our focus shifts away from putting spot news in the physical edition, we still need to include the big news of the day. How we do that varies, though, especially with something like the Syria situation, in which you have atrocities happening every day but not much variation in the news itself. You can only run articles about Homs being shelled and cease-fires being ignored for so long before it starts to get repetitive.

One area of focus this week has been Burma and its swift re-entry into the international community. For some people -- in this instance Burmese exiles -- that embrace has come a little too quickly and without checking to make sure the army-backed regime has lived up to its word.
The European Union’s suspension of economic sanctions against Burma has riled exiled activists, who are urging the United States to press for further reforms by the dominant military before following suit.
The activists’ opposition has exposed differences with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi whose cause they have championed for more than two decades, which helped drive the sanctions in the first place.
Suu Kyi endorsed the EU move during a visit by British Prime Minister David Cameron to Rangoon this month, but the activists are skeptical that sanctions could be re-imposed if Burma should backslide on the reforms. They say despite Suu Kyi’s winning a seat in parliament and cease-fires reached by the government with several ethnic armed insurgencies, the changes have yet to affect the lives of most citizens and rampant rights abuses continue.
“The EU has suspended sanctions knowing that its own benchmarks on Burma have not been met: the unconditional release of all political prisoners and a cessation of attacks against ethnic minorities,” Soe Aung of the Forum for Democracy in Burma said by e-mail from Thailand. He accused the bloc of rushing to reward “murky reforms.”
I try to keep the US news to only the most important stuff, but every so often a story comes around that I just have to run. In this case, it was the Sioux City Journal devoting its entire front page on Sunday to an anti-bullying editorial after a gay teenager killed himself. Using all of A1 on just that might seem a bit much, but if the editorial staff felt that was the most important issue that day, I commend them for having the guts to do it.
Relatives have said 14-year-old Kenneth Weishuhn Jr. suffered intense harassment, including threatening cellphone calls and nasty comments posted online, after coming out to family and friends about a month ago. He died April 15 from what the local sheriff's office described only as a "self-inflicted injury."
The Sioux City Journal's front-page opinion piece calls on the community to be pro-active in stopping bullying and urges members to learn more about the problem by seeing the acclaimed new film, "Bully," which documents the harassment of a Sioux City middle school student. It notes that while many students are targeted for being gay, "we have learned a bully needs no reason to strike."
"In Kenneth's case, the warnings were everywhere," the editorial said. "We saw it happen in other communities, now it has hit home. Undoubtedly, it wasn't the first life lost to bullying here, but we can strive to make it the last.
I urge you to read the whole thing. I'd also say, though, that I hope at some point we can look beyond bullying and call this behavior by its real name -- homophobia.

And then there's the news about the Google bigwigs and James Cameron helping fund a company that's going to mine asteroids. That's just too cool not to run.

Odds and ends

For all the (deserved) love I give the longer reads, sometimes the best bits of news come 200 words at a time. I try to wedge in at least one column of briefs each day so people can read lovely little news bites that may not have enough heft to stand on their own.

This one hit particularly close to home. A New Zealand woman died of a heart attack that medical experts say may have had something to do with her habit of drinking 2 gallons of Coke each day.
Natasha Harris, a 30-year-old, stay-at-home mother of eight from Invercargill, died of a heart attack in February 2010. Fairfax Media reported that a pathologist, Dr. Dan Mornin, testified at an inquest Thursday that she probably suffered from hypokalemia, or low potassium, which he thinks was caused by her excessive consumption of Coke and overall poor nutrition.
Symptoms of hypokalemia can include abnormal heart rhythms, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Mornin said that toxic levels of caffeine, a stimulant found in Coke, also may have contributed to her death, according to Fairfax.
Harris' partner, Chris Hodgkinson, testified that Harris drank between 8 and 10 liters (2.1 and 2.6 gallons) of regular Coke every day.
"The first thing she would do in the morning was to have a drink of Coke beside her bed and the last thing she would do at night was have a drink of Coke," Hodgkinson said in a deposition. "She was addicted to Coke."
Hodgkinson also said Harris ate little and smoked about 30 cigarettes a day. In the months before her death, he said, Harris experienced blood pressure problems and lacked energy.
Nice of the Coke spokesweasel to remind us that even water is deadly in excessive amounts. You stay classy, now. For the record, my daily intake of soda is at most 2 to 3 cans of Diet Coke or a 1.5-liter bottle of Coke Zero.

Speaking of New Zealand, this one is equally weird and heart-breaking. An Indonesian woman wants $6 million from her Kiwi ex-husband before she will release her mentally impaired adult son, who is chained up in her home against his will.
Mr Donaldson's son Simon, 26, a New Zealand citizen born in Indonesia, suffers from leukodystrophy which causes deteriorating motor skills and bouts of dementia.
He lives with his Indonesian mother in the east Java city of Surabaya but his family want to bring him to New Zealand where they believe he will receive better medical care.
Convinced the condition is a product of black magic, his mother Yuhanie Marisa Latinia is keeping her son in chains and has demanded $6 million as a "starting point" before she will consider releasing him.
Black magic? Makes you wonder who in that family has the real mental impairment.

You can also file this under US news that's too good not to run. Lawmakers want to give the loose change left behind by travelers at airport security checkpoints to the USO, but giving away said loose change would cost taxpayers $1 million.
"One would think that providing a cost estimate for this bill would be straightforward," said U.S. Representative Jeff Miller, who is sponsoring legislation to redirect the money.
"Only in the federal government can change you are forced to remove from your pockets and then accidentally leave behind be counted as guaranteed income to the TSA. This is the problem with our government today," Miller, a Florida Republican, wrote in a newsletter to constituents last week.
One of the other responsibilities of being a desk editor is checking in with the other section heads and making sure you don't poach a story they want. Business tends to overlap with news more than the other sections, but every so often something of an entertainment bent will cross my desk. (The sports editor and I have a psychic link, so we move in concert without even speaking. It's a sight to behold, really.)

We've had South Korean Protestants trying to pray away Lady Gaga (and presumably The Gay), Russian Orthodox types raging a feminist punk group called Pussy Riot and J-Pop juggernaut AKB48 being accused of "promoting homosexuality" with a slightly risque commercial. Having given the commercial and making-of video thorough, repeated examinations, I fail to see any reason for people to complain. It all looks clean, wholesome fun to me.

That's basically the sum total of my last week. Sports are dead to me. I really should start pricing flights back home, but our situation is still in flux and of no help in planning for the future.

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