Archive for the ‘Community Reporting’ Category

While working at the Fox Television station in Detroit, one of my main duties was to cover politics and the upcoming primary election. In addition to producing content for the web I researched and compiled information on candidates, parties, and issue votes in upcoming state and local elections in the station’s nine county range. Those counties were Lapeer, Lenawee, Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair, Washtenaw, and Wayne. The information was conveyed to the reader through different website modules and links. Once all this information was established, we began setting up a survey to contact candidates with and connect on the web and television newscasts.

I lead a team of interns in collecting Candidate’s email and phone numbers in the nine counties. I created a master excel spreadsheet with phone numbers, email addresses, and other contact information. We emailed and called state senate, state house reps, and the other candidates to advise them of the upcoming questionnaire. If the candidate or their office did not answer we would leave a message and try again a couple days later to confirm.

In the end, we attempted to contact over 450 candidates in state senate, state representative, U.S. congress, and gubernatorial elections. Approximately 390 in total received the questionnaire and of those almost 40% responded to the five questions. The questionnaire was available to participants online via a link to a surveying website we had set up. The candidates had a week to respond and any answers that came late were added at the time.

Once the answers were in our grasp, we built pages and modules for each county. For each questionnaire returned, the candidate got their own story page with the answers. Those pages were then ranked by district on the main county page for the state house, state senate, and U.S. congress elections.  For the gubernatorial page, each candidate was listed with their picture making it easier for people to identify them. All seven gubernatorial candidates responded to the questionnaire making that portion a success.

From there, answers were broken down into individual candidate pages. A candidate’s answers were then separated through capsules indicating district number and their election. The answers to the most contentious elections used during television newscasts and analyzed for additional insight. Seeing answers on television also prompted more candidates to respond to the original questionnaire. By seeing someone from their district taking advantage on the local television station and website, they wanted the opportunity to chime in.

The questions went as followed:

Please list your full name, party affiliation, office sought, county and district. (Note: Although we knew the political affiliation on the ballot, many chose not to associate themselves with a specific party.)

Why are you running for office?

What is the biggest problem facing Michigan residents today and how would you solve it?

What’s a better solution: finding revenue or cutting costs to meet Michigan’s public education budget? How would you do it?

What’s the best way to create jobs for Michigan residents?

After you leave this earth, what will they say about you?

The answers varied amongst political candidates in both content and style. Some politicians stuck to more political answers for all questions, including the final one. Others, were more open in what they were willing to respond.

Examples and links to responses can be seen below.

Rick Snyder, Governor-Elect, State of Michigan

5. After you leave this earth, what will they say about you?

I hope that I will be remembered as a good husband, father and friend by my loved ones. I hope that I will be remembered for the positive contributions I have made to my community, state and country. Throughout my life, I have worked hard to overcome challenges with a focus on helping people and having a good time doing it. I believe we will reinvent Michigan and I hope that I will be remembered for bringing people together around this common cause and delivering results. The rest of the answers can be seen here.

Virg Bernero, Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate

What is the biggest problem facing Michigan residents today and how would you solve it?

Jobs. As Governor my top priority will be to reverse the bleak jobs situation that is affecting so many families across our state. We can and will make Michigan the #1 place in the country to do business ’ because that means JOBS. Small business especially must be promoted and nurtured as this is where the bulk of new jobs will be created.

To create new jobs in Michigan, we must build upon our advanced manufacturing capabilities by investing in them, instead of abandoning them. That’s because, as a state, we cannot just consume greatly, we have to produce greatly. We have to make the products of the future for export to the world. Retaining and strengthening our state’s advanced manufacturing capabilities across diverse sectors of the new global economy while also investing in our human infrastructure can and will be the backbone of our state’s economic comeback. The rest of the answers can be seen here.

More Examples: U.S. House District 13 of Michigan candidate answers for John Hauler and Hansen Clarke.

An example of the setup used for navigating the website (After the Primary Election, links to answers were removed on the site from those candidates who did not win their respective election):

Wayne County State Senate

In the summer of 2010 I participated in an internship at the local television station Fox 2 in Detroit. I was brought in to assist with web production for their site www.myfoxdetroit.com, produce content, and specialize in Politics, culminating with a candidate survey revolving around the Michigan Primary on August 3, 2010.

While at the station I worked on a variety of stories for the website. Below you will find links to all articles and clips or multimedia of different content I worked on. An in depth description detailing the Primary Candidate project for the television station can be found here.

Multimedia

All multimedia and their accompanied stories were written, recorded and edited by myself and other interns (whose names will be mentioned). Most of those stories were done with a deadline in mind as to when they must be up on the website. Some had a more serious element, while other pieces were light-hearted pieces.

Supporters of Israel Speak Their Mind

Written and Produced by Benjie Klein and Amelia Carpenter

West Bloomfield – A rally in support of Israel took place in West Bloomfield Township yesterday. Some in attendance held Israeli flags and American flags as a show of patriotism.

Signs with statements like: “We Americans Stand By Israel,” “Israel’s Blockade is Legal,” and “Israel Gave Up Gaza for Peace” could be seen by those passing by the southeast corner of Fifteen Mile and Orchard Lake Rd… The rest of the story can be found on the Fox 2 website here.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

Automotive X-Prize Gearing For Final Stages

By Benjie Klein, Amelia Carpenter, and Karen George

Brooklyn, MI – Michigan International Speedway had some fierce competition these past two weeks. Yet, it wasn’t a race.

Progressive Automotive Insurance has been holding it’s X-Prize competition right here in Michigan. The X-Prize was created with one goal in mind — build a safe, efficient car that gets at least 100 MPG in real world driving. At stake, $10 million…  The rest of the story can be found on the Fox 2 website here.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

X Prize, posted with vodpod

Links to additional non-political Multimedia:

World Cup 2010: American Football vs. World Futbol *by Benjie Klein and Amelia Carpenter

American Idol Fans Say Goodbye to Simon *by Benjie Klein and Karen George

Predict the Winner of American Idol *by Benjie Klein and Karen George

Political Article Example

Candidates Send the Wrong Message

By Benjie Klein

More Michigan jobs.This is the mantra we have been hearing for years across this state.  Yet, for some reason, candidates over look what’s right in front of them — an opportunity to start the process in the simplest way.

It is no secret anywhere in the country that during election time politicians are out for themselves. Because of that, they often miss the fundamentals that helped earn them the chance to run for office from the beginning. Start with the people at home. The rest of the story can be found on the Fox 2 website here.

Links to Additional Political Articles:

Mackinac Policy Conference

Mackinac 2010: Who Will Step Up

Politics and Technology: Time to Tear them Apart

Sound Off: What Does Michigan Want in a Governor?*By Benjie Klein and Amelia Carpenter

Sound Off: Kwame Kilpatrick Sentencing Reaction*By Benjie Klein and Amelia Carpenter

More Information about the Primary Candidate Project

Wisconsin Sleep is located at 6001 Research Park Boulevard in Madison

In Madison, a trendy building boasting a glass façade stands tall inviting visitors to occupy vacancies in the 19 total rooms, some specialized for children. Walk through the doors and a spiral staircase leads a guest to the front desk to check in for the night, or even a daytime nap. Once led to led to the room a door opens to a room featuring a flat screen with satellite television, a DVD player, computer, bathroom and all the amenities one asks for when spending a night away from home appears. And all these deluxe amenities feature a price tag of $4,500 a night.

Now take a closer look and a camera beams down from the ceiling. Next to the bed wires dangle off a poll and strange machines lie inside a cabinet close by. This is no hotel, instead a place known as Wisconsin Sleep.

Opened on Sept. 10, 2007, the University of Wisconsin Medical Foundation and Meriter Hospital closed their sleep centers and joined forces to create Wisconsin Sleep, doubling the size of both previous centers combined. Wisconsin Sleep joined a rapidly growing industry in the midst of a large upswing. In 1999, over 400 accredited sleep institutes existed in the country. Today that number exceeds 1,500 an increase from over 1,237 when Wisconsin Sleep opened just two years ago, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

According to Dr. William Kohler, medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute and former chairman of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine accreditation committee, an increase in the attentiveness to sleep contributed to this movement.

“We have become aware of the significant problems that can occur to our health if we do not get the proper sleep,” said Kohler.

At centers like Wisconsin Sleep, patients show up for issues like insomnia, narcolepsy or a rapidly growing problem, sleep apnea. Apnea obstructs an individual’s ability to breathe during sleep.

With these issues rising, the industry itself saw an average of 13 percent patient growth amongst centers in 2007, today that number hovers closer to 6 percent according to a Sept. 2009 study in Sleep Review.

With more people concerned about shuteye, Wisconsin Sleep entered the market with a unique approach.

Wisconsin Sleep Approach

From the beginning the $3.9 million facility wanted more than to just be another clinic.

“It was created to be able to offer the option to have research and clinical studies done,” said Linda Jelinek, Team Leader of Sleep Technicians at Wisconsin Sleep. “The dream of Dr. Ruth Benca how a lot of it all came together.” Dr. Benca is the Wisconsin Sleep medical director with a vision of helping patients and increasing learning in the field of sleep.

The profit driven center contains 16 clinical rooms and three additional rooms for research purposes. Inside the center 25 different sleep technicians, double the amount of the previous centers, help the building stay awake at various points of the 24-hour day, including a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift. The workers focus on monitoring visiting patients and subjects.  On the research side, subjects are used for discovering advanced techniques in treatment and developing scholarship in the field.

By allowing both research and clinical work done in the same building, the two sides must maintain a working balance and still learn from each other.

“You see patients not only within that cocoon of this is a patient problem, but also how understanding the physiology and the problem of the patient can be reflective on overall sleep health for many other people,” said Dr. Cami Matthews, who focuses on pediatric sleep at the clinic.

But obstacles exist between the two as well. Complementing research with clinical work, in the same place, presents challenges.

By having so much happen in one place, the staff must remain organized and balance the two sides without overstepping boundaries.

“The staff has the interaction with both clinicians and researchers and that can be challenging at times,” said Matthews. “It’s hard to have a busy clinical practice and then if you have a busy research practice that can be difficult.”

But what happens on each side?

Clinical

When the lights go out, strange occurrences happen. From a sleep singer belting out happy birthday, a grandma talking about her grandson’s baseball achievements to a farmer simulating driving his John Deere or a man faking seizures for eight hours many stories have developed over the past couple years.

Unfortunately, many of these stories look at the lighter side of sleep health. As previously mentioned, awareness and issues in sleep health have flown to the forefront.

The most commonly seen issue, sleep apnea, is often accompanied with snoring throughout the night. Many look at snoring as an annoying habit of people, but it could be an indication that person is suffering from the illness.  Apnea affects all ages, but one of the prime reasons for an increase in patient visits is a growing problem in health in general.

“The obesity epidemic, I don’t like to always put it in those terms,” said Matthews. “But adults have increased weight gain and we are definitely seeing that in pediatrics as well.”

With obesity, sleep apnea may directly feel the effect by having excess body fat limit air passageways. Indirectly, sleep apnea may accompany illnesses like diabetes, which often form in overweight individuals.

The process a patient goes through to reach a sleep clinic varies. Some may receive recommendations from their personal physician while others contact the sleep center directly. Once approved for an overnight study the real testing begins.

The patients arrive at either 7 or 9 p.m. then proceed back to their room for the night. Once in the room a variety of objects are attached to the individual to measure brain waves, heartbeat, breathing, and body movements. Then the techs, usually assigned two patients each, monitor to see if a person requires a continuous positive air pressure device, or CPAP to help counteract the apnea.

“They have to meet certain criteria that’s been established by our guidelines and insurance guidelines too,” said Jelinek.

Wisconsin Sleep adheres to growing guidelines from the AASM, a very important piece of keeping the clinical side active in helping patients. While economic questions often enter into health decisions, many insurance companies refuse to deal with non-accredited institutions. These do not face the same guidelines like Wisconsin Sleep and may cost a patient more in the end.

“The tendency in many labs is to decrease the quality [for economic purposes],” said Kohler. “One of the things that an accredited center does, it insures that you have at least a minimum degree of quality present.”

With quality playing such an important role at Wisconsin Sleep, the research side helps the center remain on the brink of advancing techniques and technologies.

Research participant B139 being hooked up to the EEG

At Wisconsin Sleep a wide array of studies have already taken place. Some research involves drugs, connections between sleep and depression, or regular brain activity. The most important factor in all this research is brain measurement.

The research side boasts a high-density EEG monitoring system, making Wisconsin Sleep the first sleep laboratory to use such technology.

The high-density monitoring system involves a contraption with 256 suctions that must fit the subject’s head and each filled with gel before full attachment. According to Jelinek, depending on the staff putting the device in place, “it can take up to about two hours to get someone set up.”

But researchers and techs feel the tedious work is worth it with the new technology.  The technology allows researchers to look at sleep in a different light. New areas of the brain can be measured and more data gathered than ever before.

The University of Wisconsin seeks research subjects of all ages, often times posting the opening on the UW job board. Then a traditional job process takes place, interviewing subjects to see if they qualify for the particular study. The most recent study at Wisconsin Sleep received over 100 responses to the ad.

The sleep center compensates those who participate varying per project. Over the summer a drug study doled out $5,000 to participants who completed the 3-week period.

A current study looking at depression and sleep included a 23-year-old student known as subject B139*.

While at times the connected wires provided a nuisance to sleeping, the student found participating a beneficial experience. According to the B139, she discovered ideas not previously considered revolving around her sleep deprivation from questions asked by researchers in the process.

While monetary gain is motivation for many participants, B139 was not one of them.

“I am entering the [UW] counseling program for graduate school, so in order for me to help others I felt it was necessary for me to investigate my own problems,” said the research participant.

*The research participant asked if this article were ever published not to use their real name, but the identification used at the sleep facility. I observed her and the staff on November 24, 2009 from 7 p.m. prior to her arrival to approximately 12 a.m after the subject had gone to sleep.

The cool air sets in on a brisk Saturday morning as people don their red to cheer on the Wisconsin Badgers football team. As students and alumni move closer to the stadium they see arms raised high in the air holding an object.

This object, tickets. And for the right price, anyone could have them.

While this act, formerly known as scalping, has existed for years, the Internet craze revolutionized the business.

Many ticketholders, including those expected to be the most loyal of the fan base, students, resell more tickets than ever. This leaves many with a bitter taste in their mouth causing students to spend more money than originally anticipated to participate in the fandom of Badgers football.

“Last year I spent $400 buying season tickets from a grad student who bought them just to sell them,” said Kristine Sullivan, University of Wisconsin senior.

The Secondary Ticket Market Defined

Led by companies like Stubhub, the secondary ticket market allows individuals to resell their tickets to events often generating a profit. Unlike the classic method of standing outside a stadium for all to see, posting tickets online increases the consumer base and introduces alternative ways of getting paid.

Today, the secondary ticket market stands strong, streaming in revenue at an estimated $3 to $5 billion per year.

But within the past year, the market truly exploded.

According to Stubhub’s Corporate Communications Manager, Joellen Ferrer, customers of Stubhub, created in 2000, purchased 15 million tickets total by July 2008. Slightly more than a year later in Oct. 2009, individuals brought the total number to over 30 million tickets sold.

In Wisconsin, thousands of Badgers football tickets sell through Stubhub on a weekly basis, while numerous other tickets are resold through different means.

Regulating the Market

At the University of Wisconsin, only a regulation for students under the Conduct on University Lands guidelines exists, stating:

No person may buy or sell a ticket or other evidence of the right of entry for more than the price printed upon the face of the ticket.

No federal laws exist banning scalping, leaving states to decide the legalization of the practice. Wisconsin regulates commercial ticket resellers, those who purposely buy without any intention of attending, by allowing them to sell tickets above face value with a license purchased through the state.

Beyond commercial laws in Wisconsin, no legal repercussions exist to prevent those looking to sell above face value from a non-business aspect.

“From our standpoint I think the reselling of tickets [helps]. We want as many people in the stadium as we can get,” said Justin Doherty, Assistant Athletic Director of External Communications at UW.

Badgers Football

After experimenting with a lottery system, the University of Wisconsin now utilizes a first-come, first-served online system for students to obtain season tickets. This year, the tickets cost $153 after service charges for seven games in the 2009 season, averaging out to around $22 per game. Currently, a student logs onto their computer at a designated time hoping to obtain tickets.

Students genuinely looking to attend games face competition from those seeking to immediately turn a profit on tickets in the first-come, first-served system.

The students who grab tickets just to sell know the market they want to take advantage of with the buyers knowing the secondary market is the main alternative.

“Buyers do realize that they may not necessarily have access to tickets to any given event,” said Ferrer. “With the secondary market they realize they are able to have access to those tickets.”

At the University of Wisconsin, Badgers football means a lot to some students. The atmosphere, a bond with thousands of other students, and loyalty to the school contribute to the long-standing relationship between students and sports.

“I’ve only missed three games since I’ve been here,” said Sullivan referencing the 28 possible home games she had the opportunity to attend in her four years at Wisconsin.

These students feel their right to participate in school sporting events are compromised by those with no intentions of ever stepping foot in Camp Randall Stadium. And asking students to spend money, they often don’t have.

“My problem is with the students that buy the season package then try and sell the whole season right away for two times, three times as much,” said UW senior Ricky Ghoshroy. He feels this act takes away from the individuals who want to be there and may turn away passionate fans who can no longer afford the experience.

For the students who sincerely look ahead to each Badgers game, the opportunity to attend becomes harder. The individuals who sell their tickets just want a buyer. This leaves the possibility of students from other schools to take the spot of an avid Badgers fan.

And goes against the expected loyalty of a student fan base.

Although the Athletic Department wants to fill the venue, their views mirror the students. According to Brian Moore, Assistant Athletic Director of Ticket Operations, if a student cannot attend a game here or there and sells it, those are understandable circumstances.   The students who buy just to sell enter a different domain.

“For the simple reason of buying a season ticket to resell it for profit, I don’t think they should be doing that,” said Moore.  “Simply being in it for profiteering purposes is not what we encourage.”

Moore and the athletic department want the devoted fans purchasing the tickets directly through the university, rather than putting both the buyer and seller at risk.

Buying and Selling Risks

For college students with little money, both the buyer and seller must trust their fellow student.

“You never know if they’re going to pay you or just take the ticket and run,” said Chris Dawson, sophomore at UW. “If you’re buying the ticket you hand them the money and they run.”

While putting themselves at risk in this way, a different issue of deceit has begun to pop up.

In 2007, the University of Wisconsin implemented a program known as “Show and Blow.” This forces a student to take a breathalyzer before a game if an ejection occurred at any previous home game. Although meant for the students who violated the rule, the person who uses the ticket under violation faces the breathalyzer, often times unprepared. If the student exceeds the limit, they are denied access.

“When I buy a ticket I make sure to verify that they’re not in that program, that I’m not going to get turned away the gate,” said Jon Hardegger, sophomore student.

UW has no obligation to the buyer or seller in these situations, leaving the students gambling on their game day experience.

But alternatives do exist and recently implemented plans at other universities give an idea what the future may hold.

Future Alternatives

With a changing marketplace and students desperate for tickets, many schools around the country have started to formulate new ticketing plans. While some schools have added more stringent rules to prevent scalping, others regulate it.

At Penn State University, a student marketplace allows current students to sell football tickets only to other Penn State students. They may sell tickets in the range of $30 to $60 and use their student IDs as tickets, allowing easy transfer for tickets sold within the system.

Students also suggested their own alternatives.

“If you’re not using your ticket to go to the game you should be able to sell it back to the school, and the school can market it back to people looking for tickets,” said Sullivan.

Another option, simple patience.

“If students paid attention to how the prices work,” said Hardegger. “They would notice closer to game time, the prices have gone way down [this year].”

According to Moore, Wisconsin does not have the technology in place to switch to a new system and it may be as many as four years before new ticketing changes come about.

The following articles were part of a group project at the University of Wisconsin in conjunction with The Isthmus and its website The Daily Page to look at educational issues in Madison, WI. The articles below were written in a joint effort by Benjie Klein, Jodie Stern, and Rachel Shulman focusing on Wisconsin High Schools. They were published on February 8, 2010, links are included to the original publication.

College Costs the Top Concern for Madison High School Seniors


Although high school seniors perennially struggle to make decisions about life after graduation, given the current economic climate, the class of 2010 is evaluating its options more carefully than ever.

“We used to talk very little about what it costs to go to college,” says Jena Acker, head guidance counselor at LaFollette High School here in Madison.

Current economic conditions, however, make the cost of college one of the primary considerations of seniors and their parents.

Five years ago, parents emphasized getting their kids into the best four-year college possible, says Acker. She notes that the economic downturn created a shift in conversations with parents and students, from discussions of the top schools to “here are the options and here is what these options cost. Now we need to make good decisions based on that.”

In addition to feeling the pressure to make fiscally responsible choices, students must work harder for financial aid and scholarships.

“The financial aid game definitely picks up steam after January, but they really need to be serious about it when they get to school in the fall,” says Len Mormino, a guidance counselor at Madison West High School. “I think we’ve got as many students as ever before going after scholarships.”

Doubts surrounding the ability of financial aid packages to fully cover college expenses lead students to consider more prudent post-graduate plans.

Seniors who originally hoped to attend a school outside of Wisconsin before the economic downturn now consider staying in-state as a way to cut back on tuition costs. For those looking for an option a bit further from their hometowns, the states of Wisconsin and Minnesota offer tuition reciprocity, which allows students from both states to pay close to their in-state rate. The Midwest Student Exchange, a multi-state tuition reciprocity program, presents another affordable option, allowing students to save between $500 and $3,000 in annual tuition costs.

“Those kinds of things are more attractive now in tough economic times,” says Mormino.

Guidance counselors continue to encounter an increase in the number of students considering two-year programs as well.

“It used to be that almost all parents wanted their kids to go to a four-year school – that was the best path. And now I think that families are reconsidering because of the status of the economy. I think that they’re making better decisions based on the fact that money is tight,” says Acker.

Acker says the economic climate is forcing many parents to reconsider their old biases against vocational schools like Madison Area Technical College (MATC). She says that MATC recruiting events help parents realize “it’s not the technical college that you once knew – this is a brand new opportunity.”

“When families start to see [reduced financial aid], they’re going to opt for a more affordable [education] like MATC” says Acker.

In the meantime, students appear much more enthusiastic about MATC than their parents, says Acker.

LaFollette senior Jeremiah Lairson agrees. “MATC is a lot better than people think it is,” he says.

According to Acker, students view these two-year programs as stepping-stones to employment in a difficult job market. “I think that there is a greater need for a technical school or MATC, and a lot of our kids are taking that option right off the bat,” she says.

Acker and Mormino also noticed an increased awareness of two-year transfer programs this year. These types of programs enable students who have completed two-year degrees at a technical or community college to automatically transfer to a four-year college like UW-Madison as long as they maintain adequate GPAs. This option allows students to cut back on the cost of their post-secondary education without sacrificing a four-year degree.

“I think that colleges make known the transfer option more than ever before,” says Mormino.

Claire Dawson, a LaFollette senior, has decided on the two-year liberal arts transfer program at MATC because it represents the most financially feasible option for herself and her family.

“Going to MATC in Madison is my main focus because I want to live at home to save money,” she says. “I know I’m going to pay for my college no matter what, so I just want to put in as little as possible.”

Acker estimates that MATC costs an average of $3,675 per year, compared with UW-Madison’s price tag of $8,313 per year for in-state undergraduate tuition.

Both MATC and UW-Madison have noticed a heightened interest in more affordable options. According to Bill Bessette, a MATC spokesman, the school saw a 20-percent increase in enrollment for degree credit courses during the summer of 2009, and a 12-percent increase in enrollment for the fall semester. This increase includes both graduating seniors, as well as workers trying to update their job skills to become more marketable candidates.

“We are kind of bursting at the seams right now,” he says.

The number of students qualifying for and receiving Pell Grants (federal, need-based scholarships given to low-income undergraduates) at UW-Madison increased substantially this academic year. Susan Fischer, Director of the Office of Student Financial Aid, revealed that 3,600 undergraduates received Pell Grants during the 2008-2009 academic year. The Office has already awarded 4,000 such grants for 2009-2010.

“We have certainly had an increase in [financial aid] appeals,” Fischer says.

Students are even adjusting their career expectations to meet the needs of today’s market. Seniors at LaFollette High School says they track job forecasts and can name the jobs that are in high-demand, despite the economy.

“I really like art but, in the long run, I don’t think that would be very beneficial, because I think it would be harder to find a job,” says LaFollette senior Sarah Beske, who believes that psychology would be a more practical course of study.

Acker concurs. “I think that kids are hesitant to say I want to do this [career] because they may know that that major or that career is not hiring right now.”

However, as the economy continues on its unpredictable path and post-graduation plan-making remains as complicated as ever, there seems to be only one approach for seniors across the spectrum.

Lairson sums it up best, “Ultimately, you decide what is best for you, and you decide how to get there.”

La Follette Seniors Identify Economic Concerns, Strategies


Preparing for the cost of college in today’s economy can leave high school students feeling as if they’re taking the biggest gamble of their lives. With an economic climate showing few signs of rebound, seniors at Madison LaFollette High School are struggling over how to best use their limited savings.

For many seniors, the prevailing attitude that college offers the best path after graduation has been transformed by the realities of today’s economic climate. Now more seniors see college as the best path only if they can manage the risk of debt.

Claire Dawson has decided to deal with increased financial burdens by focusing on the most economically practical path for herself and her family – the two-year liberal arts transfer program at Madison Area Technical College (MATC).

“I hear a lot of things about MATC like, oh, they’ll accept anyone,” Dawson says. “My GPA is pretty high, and I have a high class rank, so that’s why people say that I could do better than MATC, but I don’t look at it that way.”

Dawson explains that choosing the two-year transfer program at MATC over the full four-year college experience is something that she wants to do to help out her family financially. “If it’s cheaper and a comparable experience, why not go to MATC?”

Dawson says the college’s transfer program makes sense for her, because it will prepare her for a career in nursing. “The reason I want to go into nursing is because there’s a big demand for it,” she says.

She knows her decision to save money by living at home and attending MATC means some serious trade-offs. Dawson realizes she will miss out on the typical college dorm life, fraternity parties, and the initial experience of newfound independence.

However, she seems comfortable with her decision. “Right now, I don’t feel like I’ll regret it,” Dawson says. She explains that, no matter what she or anyone else thinks of MATC, once enrolled she will take comfort in the knowledge that she is saving money. “That takes some of the tension off,” she says.

While her peers scramble to finish their personal statements for college applications, Dawson can sit back and relax, knowing that she’s already set on a path. If anything, watching her friends stress over admissions makes her nervous. “I feel like I’m missing something,” she explains.

Hailey Alfred, another senior at LaFollette, recently discovered that her military mom could transfer GI Bill benefits to her. Before the discovery, Alfred considered taking a year off between high school and college to work and save money.

“I was thinking. . . is going to college for four years and racking up all of this debt really going to be worth it, or should I just continue working?” she explains.

But, with the GI bill benefits – $30,000 per year plus a monthly stipend – Alfred could expand her options. She says her mother, a master sergeant in the National Guard currently deployed in Iraq, became aware of the G.I. Bill’s untapped potential after doing some research and talking to colleagues this past fall.

“That opened doors to anywhere I wanted to go,” says Alfred, “It was a huge relief. . . I had no idea how we were going to pay for [college].”

Like Dawson, Alfred weighed the bleak job market when deciding on her top school choices. She explains, “I love to write and that was my original career path – I wanted to be a journalist – but now everything is shifting over to online, and print journalism is kind of dying out, so I had to explore something else that I would still enjoy.”

She is now focused on political science as a potential major, and is especially interested in the pre-law program at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Invoking an old cliché, she remarks, “The three things that you’re always going to need are a doctor, a lawyer, and a mortician.”

Not all students are so lucky. David Santos, whose family emigrated from Mexico City eight years ago, could be the first in his family to go to college. But he currently gets little support from home.

“My mom doesn’t really push for [college],” he explains. “She should be more involved. . . My dad is in Mexico right now so he doesn’t really count as an option [to help me with my decision].”

One of Santos’ older brothers is urging him to go straight to college after graduation. Although Santos’ top choice for next fall is MATC, he questions his ability to afford it. “I’m absolutely looking at scholarships,” he says. If scholarship money is insufficient, he will get a job after graduation to save money for college, or he might try attending college part-time while working part-time.

Ironically, the weak economy makes it easier for senior Jeremiah Lairson to afford college. Both of his parents recently went back to school to gain a competitive advantage in today’s difficult job market. “[My dad] couldn’t find jobs because he basically got beat out by people who had less experience but had bachelor’s degrees. . . So that’s what made him go back to school,” he explains.

Because everyone in his family currently attends school, Lairson received a hefty financial aid package. Viterbo University in La Crosse also offered Lairson a scholarship based on his high ACT score.

Lairson, who is passionate about musical theatre, says the economic climate has made him reconsider following his dreams. Recently, he started to explore music education, because he believes teaching offers greater job security than the performing arts. “There’s a high need for teachers in low income areas,” he explains.

As these LaFollette seniors explore their options in today’s economic climate, one question will continue to weigh on their minds: Have they chosen the right path? Dawson, Alfred, Santos, and Lairson hope their strategies will balance the risk of debt with the reward of a college education.

As part of the Masters Program at the University of Wisconsin, I had to create two semester long blogs on separate topics.

The first blog looked at modern and unique technologies.

I dubbed this blog “The Swittle Monkey” after my small video production company known as Swittle Monkey Productions. Below you will find an entry about different technologies in sports.

With the NCAA tournament in full motion there is not a better time to discuss the way sports and technology merge to create some of the greatest spectacles in the world to be viewed at this point anywhere at anytime.  After the first day it was reported over 3.4 million hours of video/audio were streamed to watch parts of this event. And with an incredible first day, the numbers for the rest of the weekend can only be assumed to at least match that for the next three days.  Obviously on Thursday more people were working and sneaking in some viewing time, opposed to the weekend at home to enjoy the action on TV.  Coming into the tournament CBS projected over 10 million hours streamed, after the first day’s pace, I’m going to assume they won’t have much of a problem especially with this year’s tournament being a lot more exciting than last year’s tournament.  When NBC streamed winter olympics they only managed 3.5 million hours of streaming through the three weeks of coverage. In addition to streaming on computers, a $10 iphone app allows people to stream the games and companies like FLO TV were right in the mix both with heavy advertising and showing of the games on their portable digital TVs.

Gotta love seeing sports anywhere, anytime. Photo via Ron Sanford, LSJ

Within these events though, even more hidden nuances exist. While watching the NCAA tournament the Michigan State Spartans hit an incredible game winning shot, but the after analysis on ESPN helped show how far breaking down plays had become too. At the 1:20 point in the video here a feature known as ESPN Axis breaks down how close a ball is to hitting a players head on a pass by turning the view and zooming in.  These are just some techniques used that is helping sports evolve with changing times. Another analysis technique in the sport of basketball helps combine video games and styles of play to show what may happen or what previously happened on the basketball court with an analyst right in the thick of the virtual action.

Although sometimes sports can become overkill at times with the stories they choose to constantly harp on, at least advancing technology helps make the moments you just can’t get enough of a little more interesting into the 72nd time viewing the same thing.

The second school blog, known as The Meaty Matters, looks at the meat industry, its relationship with restaurants, and uses of unique meats around the world.

Let’s get the basics out of the way. At some point in your life, you’ve eaten some form of fast food meat. In fact, you probably sneak a taco, roast beef, or bacon double cheeseburger every once in a while. But, there’s also been that point where you’ve questioned what exactly you are eating. I’ll come out and admit, I used to be a bottom-tier fast food junkie*(see below for details). In my undergrad days of college I’d have McDonalds breakfast at 4 a.m daily. Luckily, after I graduated I quit that habit and shy away from fast food. If I’m going to eat unhealthy food, I’d much rather do it at one of those places on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives or unique to the city I’m in.

Before I go any further, let me say: this is not an attempt to turn you off from fast food. If you want to eat it, more power to you. In recent times, movies that attempt to exploit the fast food world and the occasional story documenting the ill health effects have been the craze. I’m just taking the simple approach of looking at the meat (to determine how much is actual meat), how they get their meat, and some regulations out there. Some of this stuff might be tough to digest (both literally and figuratively.)

First, fast food meat is legal and edible. For example rumors of Arby’s roast beef being liquid or gelatin are not true. The packaging the meat arrives in has a gelatin type broth/preservative that helps maintain freshness and flavor, causing confusion to those looking to take out the industry. These companies do stringent testing on the meats. Whether places like Mcdonalds and Burger King do so to avoid insane lawsuits or out of caring for their customer base is up for debate. The biggest problems, however, stem from animal care, production, and a low-grade quality product. These are the areas where things begin going downhill.

The question of “where does this meat come from?” is perhaps the most legitimate question surrounding these chains. And the truth is, they couldn’t tell you specifically. Fast food chains have their meat factories and suppliers they use, but in the ground beef they create dozens of different cows may be used. There aren’t farms used to produce the meats, these are in fact factories. Many are just feeding lots where the cows stay in one spot eating as much corn/grain mixed with antibiotics and hormones as possible. It sounds bad, and it probably is, but it still produces an acceptable quality of meat if the production methods go correctly.

Within the production is where the problems lie. Because these animals are essentially living in one solitary spot, and constantly eating, they can get quite dirty. A combination of food, fecal matter, and any other excess waste might end up on or around them. That’s where the debate begins when addressing poop making it into hamburgers. Does it happen? Yes. Very rarely and that’s when E.coli comes into play. Is it as common as some people like to make it seem? No.  Check out these interviews from Frontline to see both sides of the safety argument.

The process of cleaning these animals and retrieving the meat can be very difficult and must be done thoroughly. In an industry that produces obscene tonnage of meat that is expected to be processed extremely fast, mistakes can be made. The fast food meat factories have to supply so many places around the world that almost 400 cattle an hour are slaughtered. The number itself is crazy, but to think workers must wash every animal, clean out intestines and other body parts, plus be careful enough not to hurt yourself with these machines and knives, it’s a difficult task. Since 1993, when there was a huge outbreak almost ending the Jack in the Box franchises, companies and the country are a little more strict in the way they go about the process before and after. Jack in the Box went bankrupt at the time and are just now expanding nationally, a plan that may have been set back by 20 years.

The company most attacked now for their process isn’t Mcdonalds or Burger King. The fast food chain: Kentucky Fried Chicken. Led by those crazy folks at PETA (just watch the video and you’ll see), a site called Kentucky Fried Cruelty has led undercover investigations to see how this company treats their chicken and the quality that comes after. While they tend to overdramatize some of the stuff, it has been found workers at these plants abuse these animals beyond their ultimate fate of slaughter. Chickens have been found in cages that are unsafe causing them to get stuck and break wings or legs. The chickens are also shocked, cut and dumped into boiling water. The chickens that are used have gained weight in double the amount of time of a normal life span.

So now that the processing is complete, how bout the meat itself?  This is where things get interesting. In Europe, the meat is better quality. They have more restrictions and better regulations. It tastes better and smells better.  In America most the meat used is commercial grade. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s also not really graded. In fact, meat goes by 8 different categories: Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter, and Canner. Within these categories, there can be grades of “1-5” placed on the meat. But this is not a requirement. Thus, majority of the commercial grade meat just makes it through USDA inspection so it won’t kill you and it goes from there.  Once again, the meat itself is edible. Poultry uses different grades as well. For the whole grading scale and to learn more check out the whole grading scale and regulations of all meats and poultry.

So you’re thinking I didn’t really explain how the meat truly is. But, thanks to an article published last December in USA Today, fast-food standards for meat both safety and quality are actually better than those in the Educational system. Who said our country didn’t care? The truth is, commercial grade meat is exactly as it sounds. Of course, don’t be fooled by Angus Beef either. The newest trick for fast food restaurants has been the “Angus Beef” craze. It’s “higher quality” than other meats they serve. It’s juicy and has more to it. Certified Angus Beef brings on the illusion, as Joe’s Butcher Shop explains, that this means high quality. He also shows a solid comparison of what each meat grade means. While that is more based on steaks, it still helps show the difference.

Finally, once the actual meat must preserved to reach these places, this is where the true problem lies. If there was a way for McDonalds to constantly process cows in a magical basement of everyone of their restaurants, the quality of the meat might actually be better. Unfortunately, because of the amount there is and the distance each little strip of beef must travel to join with it’s little beef strip friends, stuff must be added. For many chicken products, sodium phosphate seems to be popular. Throw in some MSG, Oils, Disodium Guanylate and Disodium Inosinate, and you’re almost halfway to what they give you. For a great list of added chemicals to all foods, beyond meats click here.

So… I won’t deny, I’ll still eat fast food every once in a while. The process is bad and what they add after is bad. It’s even worse that the government isn’t as strict as they should be. That might be even more alarming than the fast food chains themselves. Some of them do it the right way. Five Guys, In-n-Out Burger, and so on have healthier operations. Even Chipotle, once owned by Mcdonalds, does it in a way that isn’t cruel and even a bit healthier. The prices might be a little bit more expensive, but there are at least options out there.

Don’t worry, I will soon be looking at fancier meats from high quality restaurants. As well as more parts of the body for you to enjoy. If you have any suggestions or comments, feel free as always…

*To make myself feel better in life, I have separated different styles of fast food into “tiers.” McDonalds, Taco Bell, Burger King, Arby’s, KFC, and so on in my mind are example of bottom-tier fast food. Restaurants like Pancheros, Potbellys, Five Guys, and Pei Wei are second-tier and thus acceptable in my world.

The final blog included is not school related, but a blog I felt I should mention with a link. It is known as Benjie Off the Leash (named after the hit movie about a dog “Benji: Off the Leash”). This blog was used to chronicled my travels throughout Europe and the United States.

A new neighbor full of smiling women, a bevy of alcohol and 18 big screen televisions arrived next to East Towne Mall a year removed from shutting its doors across town.

The risqué beach-theme restaurant, Hooters, officially opened its doors on Sept. 24 bringing a bevy of reaction to the east side of Madison. Having to restart in Madison, Hooters knows neighborhood reaction, city legalities, and the benefits they offer in a downtrodden economy must be addressed. In evaluating these areas the franchise brings a unique mix of positive and negative attributes with its storied past.

Hooters history in and out of Madison

Established in Florida in October 1983, Hooters features a wide array of food ranging from chicken wings to seafood to accompany the alcohol and visual stimuli. The company is most known for their gregarious Hooters Girls, waitresses expected to entertain in addition to serving food, wearing tight white t-shirts and orange shorts.

The history of Hooters in Madison began in 1994 at 6654 Mineral Point Road neighboring the West Towne Mall.  The location also bordered a residential community bringing negative reaction to that spot 15 years prior. Although negative reaction on the west faded, the Hooters experienced turbulent years. The franchise set a company goal to seek a new location.

“We had been looking since 2004 to take it over to the east side,” said Doug Long, regional manager of Hooters in Wisconsin. “The west side location was not optimum for us because it was in the backside of the mall and it just didn’t fit into what at one time was a good location.”

A year after shutting down on the west side Hooters found a place they believe fits. More visible and closer to the interstate, Hooters pounced on the vacated Country Kitchen building at 2639 E. Springs Drive.

“We felt like this is a good location, easy access to the community with the mall around and hotels we feel like we have easy access for people who want to come see us,” said Long.

With the site selected, Hooters rejoined the city of Madison. Knowing the east side may bring similar reaction to the past opening, the company wasted no time.

Hooters in the Neighborhood

Hooters quickly embraced the prospect of joining the east side of Madison and a new neighborhood. The company sprung into action contacting local officials. Alder Joe Clausius of District 17, where the restaurant now resides, jumped on the opportunity to fill the unoccupied building.

“To me right away it was a win-win. I did two things for the district.  I eliminated a vacant storefront and I provided some much, much needed jobs,” said Alder Clausius. “The biggest thing we want to do right now is jobs in Madison.”

The new Hooters brings over 100 jobs to the district in Madison; adding to the 25,000 currently employed by over 450 Hooters restaurants according to the company’s website. The jobs consist of bartenders, cooks, managers and the previously mentioned Hooters girls.

Despite the fact the restaurant has brought new opportunities, others are not so glad this establishment joined their community.

“Personally, I would rather see a more family oriented restaurant in that location,” said the president of the Carpenter-Ridgeway Neighborhood Association, Randall L Glysch. “I don’t feel it brings a positive image to the community, its focus is very specific.”

Mary Polancih has similar sentiments to Glysch.

“I really think it sends the wrong message, I would put it in the same genre as Tilted Kilt and about one step from strip clubs,” said Polancih, “It’s not any place I’d frequent or let anyone I care about frequent.” Tilted Kilt refers to the Celtic themed sports bar with scantily clad women waitresses in Madison.

Long has yet to hear any negative comments directly about the restaurant. He feels Hooters largely emphasizes integration in communities, helping to thwart negative reaction. Hooters kicked off their Madison opening with a VIP benefit for the University of Wisconsin’s Carbone Cancer Clinic.

“We like to do philanthropic things through out the community and we do want to be a good corporate citizen,” said Long.  “All our employees, the stuff they get, we offer tuition reimbursement so being in a college town we feel that’s important for employees.”

With skeptical neighboring communities Hooters leaves no situation to chance, knowing they must go beyond local charitable work.

Finalizing the details

With the location secured, an alcohol license loomed as the final hurdle in reopening on the west side.

Owned by the actual corporation, Hooters of America, the franchise sent many executives including their general counsel from Atlanta and the vice president of training and development to present their case. Katherine Plominski, alcohol policy coordinator of Madison, was very impressed with their presentation for approval.

“What I was focused on were their alcohol policies.  They do have very strong corporate policies regarding use of alcohol, over-serving, IDing underage patrons,” said Plominski.

Working in favor of Hooters for this license was their previous establishment on the west side.  Due to no prior police instances or alcohol violations at the Mineral Point Road location, reestablishing authorization in the city went smoothly.  The Hooters of east Madison was permitted to serve alcohol in June.

The grand opening of Hooters of East Madison took place on Sept. 24, 2009. Only time will tell if the move is successful.

“They probably feel that being closer to the interstate will bring in more business, I’m not sure they will survive on the Eastside,” said Glysch.