October 9, 2006

From Louisville,
Ky., to Hagerstown, Md., and no doubt elsewhere, newsrooms have
tried or are planning to try to show how easy it is for a stranger to
walk into a school unnoticed. I will not be at all surprised to see TV
stations pull this stunt for the upcoming November sweeps.

In Hagerstown, reporters found lots to write about.

Al’s Morning Meeting reader Andy Schotz, from the The (Hagerstown, Md.) Herald-Mail, tells me:

We tested nine schools in three states in our coverage area. In most
cases, reporters wandered around, unnoticed, for up to 20 minutes,
which was the limit we set.

We found a door that was supposed to be locked but was ajar, an open
back door, a broken security camera that was supposed to monitor a
front door and other lax conditions. Upon hearing the results of our
test, an independent expert on school safety said he could cry.

We conducted our tests on Thursday and published a summary on Friday to promote our package of stories on Sunday.

On Friday, the superintendent
of schools in the main county that we cover, where we tested five
schools, announced a series of sweeping changes to start right away
, using emergency funds — but claimed the changes were unrelated to our test.

In Louisville, a WHAS-TV photographer was charged with criminal trespassing for entering a school without permission. WHAS’ competition, WAVE-TV, carried a story quoting the school superintendent, who said the intrusion put students at
risk. WHAS General Manager Bob Klingle said the photographer wasn’t
there illegally, did not lie about his intentions and did not notice
any signs barring unauthorized visitors. Here is  the WHAS coverage of the incident.

Here are other WHAS stories explaining why the station believes this kind of reporting can be important.

Klingle said it was the third time since 2005 that the news station has
entered schools in an effort to point out gaps in security. He said the
station would appeal the citation.

Before journalists try these “tests,” I think they have some serious questions to answer, including:

  • Is stranger intrusion really the biggest threat to schools, or do the students themselves pose the bigger problem to security?
  • How will the journalists’ intrusion affect the students? What kind of disruption could be caused, such as a lockdown?
  • Some schools have armed police officers. What has the journalist
    done to be sure there will not be a violent confrontation that could
    result in somebody, including the journalist or children, being harmed?
  • What legal concerns should the newspaper or television/radio station have about trespassing on school property?
  • Here are some guidelines for undercover work and for “testing-the-system” stories, written by Poynter’s Bob Steele.

Airline Subsidy Keeps Flights to Rural Airports

More than 100 cities around the country still have airline service
of some sort, even though their average flights deliver only three
passengers per plane. How can this be? It’s possible thanks to a federal subsidy program
called the Essential Air Service.

The program began in 1978 and was supposed to run for only 10 years. But it became permanent. The New York Times explains the rest.

Click here to look, state by state, at how much airlines are being paid to keep service to small towns in your area.

College-Entrance Stress

This is the college-application season, and the American Academy of Pediatrics says
too many kids are stressed to the max. The report says that, while most kids
are handling the pressures of overloaded schedules and high-academic
expectations, a growing number of kids are being diagnosed with anxiety
and depression.

See this interview from USA Today.

National Public Radio’s excellent correspondent, Michelle Trudeau, who covers mental health, filed this story.

Horse Slaughter Increases While Bill Stalls

A House-passed bill to stop horse slaughter is expected to die in
the Senate, but the Humane Society of the United States says the bill
is causing the foreign-owned industry to increase slaughter rates:

In a rush to kill as many horses as possible before a ban is
imposed, the foreign-owned horse-slaughter industry in the United
States has reached new decade-highs for the number of horses butchered
in a single week — 2,463 during the week ending Sept. 16, the latest
week available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and just a week
after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to outlaw horse slaughter
for human consumption.

According to the USDA, 9,163 horses were slaughtered in the four weeks
ending mid-September, which included one week with a holiday. This ends
the deadliest four-week period — a 79 percent increase over the 10-year
average rate of 5,112 — for horses in the United States since November
1994. The USDA reported 9,163 horses were slaughtered in the four weeks
ending mid-September, ranking as the highest four-week total in the
U.S. since November 1994.

The Rural Blog,
which has been tracking the story of the movement to ban slaughtering
horses, last reported on the issue Sept. 8. Click here for that archived item, and here for previous coverage on Al’s Morning Meeting.

Too Skinny

It is not new that celebrities have often been associated with eating disorders and excessive thinness. But now, the issue seems to have taken on a more serious tone.

The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times reports:

The recent decision to ban underweight models from Madrid’s fashion
week set off a buzz about the images the fashion industry presents to
the world as ideal. Everyone has an opinion, it seems, about whether
the models are just naturally skinny or walking ads for eating
disorders. The cover story in Monday’s edition of People magazine talks about the ban, with waif-like actors such as Kate Bosworth and Nicole Richie thrown in.

“PRESSURE TO BE THIN,” the headline blares.

So how thin is too thin? At what point does skinny become unhealthy?

The answer is a little different for everyone. Some people really
are naturally slim. But being too thin can hurt their health even if
they are modestly underweight, rather than at the point of having an
extreme eating disorder, doctors say.

“Some of them probably don’t have anorexia,” said Dr. Pauline
Powers, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at the
University of South Florida College of Medicine and also immediate past
president of the National Eating Disorders Association. “But still and
all, they’re underweight and might be hurting themselves even if they
don’t have anorexia.”

We are always looking for your great ideas. Send Al a few sentences and hot links.

Editor’s Note: Al’s Morning Meeting
is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials
from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis.
When the information comes directly from another source, it will be
attributed and a link will be provided whenever possible. The column is
fact-checked, but depends upon the accuracy and integrity of the
original sources cited. Errors and inaccuracies found will be corrected.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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