WOOD radio and WOOD TV announce they will “share” news

Analysis:

This story appeared on the back page of the “Your Life” section of the Grand Rapids Press. One would think that the announcement of this “news partnership” between two area broadcasters would appear in the regional or business section of the Press, not right above the movie listings. The article reads much like a Media Release, with the announcement of the partnership up front, followed by bullet points for the “viewers and listeners,” and then comments from representatives from both stations.

Phil Tower, former WOOD radio staffer and now program consultant had some interesting things to say in the story. First, he says “it’s a good way to just further enhance each of our respective brands as places to find local news.” So, it’s about branding,not doing better local news. If the stations are “sharing” news resources an expected outcome is using fewer journalists since they will no doubt be streamlining news stories between themsleves. Tower then responds to the issue of whether or not this decision to collaborate has anything to do with recent job cuts at WOOD radio. “Whether it’s radio or television, everybody’s dealing with tightened budgets; that’s a reality of corporate America that’s been around for decades,” Tower said. Unfortunately for readers of the Press there are no other perspectives to question such a comment, but recent broadcast history can certainly tell us something about this move between the two broadcasters.

There is an excellant report done by Cornell University on the downsizing impact of Clear Channel’s radio ownership since the 1996 TeleCom Act was passed. Clear Channel is also on the verge of being bought out, so this could be a move in preparation to possible downsizing under the new owner. WOOD TV is also no stranger to downsizing of their staff. A few years ago the Battle Creek affiliate, WOTV, which had a full staff in Battle Creek was downsized so that what viewers got in Battle Creek is what viewers get in West Michigan. For the Grand Rapids Press to not seek out an independent voice on this issue does a disservice to the community. One could certainly ask the question, “does the partnership between WOOD TV 8 and the GR Press have any bearing on how the Press reports on the business affairs of WOOD radio?”

Story:

Two longtime West Michigan news organizations are reuniting after 36 years in an effort to provide news, weather and other coverage.

WOOD-TV (Channel 8) and Clear Channel’s Newsradio WOOD-AM (1300) are sharing resources, effective immediately, in a full-content partnership involving news, weather, sports and traffic.

Representatives of both stations said viewers and listeners will notice:

WOOD-TV reporters giving daily news updates on WOOD-AM.

WOOD-TV being incorporated onto woodradio.com, providing daily news feeds of top headlines as well as Storm Team 8 Doppler radar.

TV8 meteorologists providing expanded weather forecasts for WOOD-AM and all seven local Clear Channel stations.

Kevin Richards reporting real-time traffic conditions on both stations.

“All of our stations will be taking on whatever elements they want to use from WOOD-TV. And WOOD-TV will have access to our news-gathering sources and traffic sources,” said Tim Feagan, vice president and West Michigan marketing manager for Clear Channel.

“From my standpoint, having been in this marketplace before, (I) could never understand why WOOD-TV8 and WOOD radio, especially, didn’t have a full-content partnership. Certainly, we both have resources that the other could use to our advantage … and certainly do not see ourselves necessarily in a competitive battle.”

Grandwood Broadcasting owned the two organizations for 22 years. LIN TV now owns WOOD-TV, WOTV (Channel 4) and WXSP (Channel 15).

Diane Kniowski, president and general manager of WOOD, WOTV and WXSP, said she sees the partnership as a return to roots.

“What (the partnership) provides for us is our information and our message gets out to the public through their distribution,” Kniowski said. “And then what they give us in addition to more ears and listeners and a distribution point for our brand of news is they also give us a partnership for covering stories.”

A change in management helped facilitate the partnership, which had been in discussion for many years, Feagan and Kniowski said.

“The initial reason is Clear Channel has a new chief (Tim Feagan),” Kniowski said. “That’s the new element that opened that door. He’s the one that came to us and said, ‘Let’s do this.’

“I mean, we’ve always had a partnership, (but) it’s never been this expanded.”

Both outlets have been combining for decades due to a shared office or close proximity, said Phil Tower, WOOD-AM’s programming and operating consultant and new general manager of the Atlanta-based Allen Hunt Show.

“What it says about the two entities today, I think they realize that it’s a good way to just further enhance each of our respective brands as places to find local news,” Tower said.

Recent staff reductions at WOOD radio had nothing to do with the partnership, he said.

“Whether it’s radio or television, everybody’s dealing with tightened budgets; that’s a reality of corporate America that’s been around for decades,” Tower said.

Making new appearances — after laying dormant in closets at WOOD radio — is Woody the Woodpecker.

The mascot will frequent parades, but Kniowski said she is unsure if the image will return to letterheads, packaging or other promotions.

“The woodpecker is going to be making appearances everywhere with us to kind of bring the reminiscence of the brand back.”

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Hunters picking up their gadgets this weekend

Analysis:

This story briefly discusses Thursday’s opening of deer hunting season. The story cites some statistics from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on deer population, but then talks about the latest hunting products. Is there any news value in this story or is it essentially just free advertising for hunting products?

Story:

Michigan’s Fire Arms Deer Season starts at sunrise on Thursday.

The state estimates 735,000 hunters will spend time in the woods this year. Those hunters are expected to spend $500-million in the state before and during the season.

Many of them will start their preparations this weekend going to sporting goods stores to search for the newest gear.

Dalen Tobey says when he started hunting 57 years ago all it took was a gun, ammunition and some patience.

Mike Byrnes only needed a simple lens cover to be completely ready for next week.

Gary Foster’s says at his store, most customers just need the little extras. However some hunters need to have a little bit more.

At the Jenison store, Nate Geents says digital game cameras are a hot item. They help a hunter know where to set up and wait.

The chance of killing a deer is now greater with the newest shotgun slugs.

A new personal vacuum pump keeps a phone, ammo, or snacks dry.

However, getting a deer will still require luck and that’s something you can’t get from a store.

The DNR says there are more than 1.6 million white-tailed deer statewide. Most southwest Michigan counties have above average deer populations. The DNR lists Kent, Barry, and Calhoun Counties as having “very high” numbers.

Hunters should kill around 450,000 deer statewide this season.

It’s a nursery, not a garage

Analysis:

This article from the front-page of the Grand Rapids Press focuses on an accident in which an SUV drove crashed through the wall of a home in Rockford, Michigan, just missing a sleeping five-month old baby. While the story–which involved drunken-driving–is tragic, does it really warrant the coverage that it received? Not only did it receive this 551-word story, but it also appeared on the front-page. The article was accompanied by two photos, one which took up a significant portion of the front-page with firefighters examining the SUV and another featuring the child and his mother.

Story:

By John Agar

KENT CITY — Nothing rattles 5-month-old Quinn Fox. Not the lights from the television and still cameras, nor the strangers with notepads who disturbed his afternoon nap.

“Our son is so happy right now,” said his mother, Kim Fox.

The infant’s first press conference Wednesday was nothing compared to his harrowing experience at 9:18 the night before, when an SUV blasted into the front of the family’s house on Fruit Ridge Avenue NW. It stopped, its wheels still spinning, a foot from his crib. Quinn was covered in debris but unhurt.

His mother, still shaken hours later, didn’t want to even think about what could have happened.

“It’s just a miracle, an absolute miracle,” she said.

She and her husband, Neven, had just put their kids, including 17-month-old Isabella, to bed when they heard a “big boom” on the baby monitor. Quinn’s cries followed.

The parents got out of bed and saw a panel covering a crawl space had fallen. They thought it odd, and figured that was the source of the noise. They weren’t overly concerned until they got downstairs.

In their son’s room, they saw pieces of drywall, window screens, glass and wood everywhere.

“There was all kind of debris, and dust was just flying all over the place,” Neven Fox said.

It covered the little boy and his crib. In her bare feet, the mother ran to her son, stepping on broken glass and metal, and got him out of his crib.

“My wife was saying, ‘My baby, my baby,'” the father said. “That was really frantic.”

He checked to see whether anything was in his son’s mouth, but it looked clear.

He didn’t have a scratch. They ran upstairs to check on their daughter. She was asleep.

Once the parents knew their children were OK, the father realized, “I’ve got three-quarters of a truck inside of our kid’s bedroom.”

As headlights shined into his house, he asked the driver if she was OK and told her to cut the engine. She was trapped, her SUV’s roof crushed. Firefighters soon got her out.

Kent County sheriff’s deputies arrested the 49-year-old Bailey woman for drunken driving after she was treated for minor injuries. She is to be arraigned Nov. 19 in Rockford District Court.

The driver told police she was heading north when she swerved to avoid a deer, veered across the road and drove across the Foxes’ front yard. A motorist told the Foxes the Bailey woman’s vehicle nearly crashed head-on into his.

The driver’s husband showed up and apologized.

The couple said they hold no ill will toward the driver.

“We’re just thankful our son is with us, and it wasn’t his time to go,” his mother said. “I just think that God didn’t want it to go that extra foot.”

Kim Fox, a kindergarten teacher at North Godwin Elementary School, figured she had a good excuse for missing conferences Wednesday. Her husband, a financial representative, stayed home, too.

They are staying with Kim’s sister’s family for now. Their house, including an office, has extensive damage.

That can be repaired, Kim Fox said.

Her son, nicknamed “Mr. Quinn,” has always been “such a good little one.”

She planned to save newspaper clippings, and tape news accounts, for her son when he’s older.

“It beats my scrapbook I’ve been working on.”

Robertson backs Giuliani for president

Analysis:

This article is based upon the recent announcement by TV Evangelist and media owner Pat Robertson, that he has endorsed GOP candidate Rudy Giuliani for President. The Grand Rapids Press version of the Associated Press story has as a sub-heading “Right-wing backing for socially liberal candidate comes out of left field.” What does the subheading mean by the term “socially liberal?” Does that mean that Giuliani favors a wage increase, providing a safety net for the poor, health care for low-income families and affirmative action? The use of the term “socially liberal” is only in reference to the issues of gay rights and abortion rights, which the article claims that Giuliani supports, but there is no information that would verify that claim. Guiliani’s campaign website only says that he is committed to reducing the number of abortions and will work to increase the amount of adoption. On the issue of gay rights there is nothing specific to gay rights other that the following paragraph under the heading of marriage, “Rudy Giuliani believes marriage is between a man and a woman. He does not—and has never—supported gay marriage. But he believes in equal rights under law for all Americans. That’s why he supports domestic partnerships that provide stability for committed partners in important legal and personal matters, while preserving the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.” Does that kind of statement support the notion that Giuliani supports gay rights?

The rest of the story has a comment from Robertson and reaction to the endorsement from McCain and Giuliani. None of the sources quoted provide any insight into the positions that Giuliani is taking as a candidate for president. There is also no mention of the kind of policies that Pat Robertson supports, despite the fact that he has been very public on issues of church and state and “the War on Terror.” Why is there no mention in this story that Robertson has taken a very strong stance on these issues, has called Muslims pigs and advocated that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez be assassinated? The story does mention that Robertson and Giuliani met recently on a plane coming back from Israel, but doesn’t say where they were coming from.

Story:

Televangelist Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, endorsed Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani on Wednesday.

“It is my pleasure to announce my support for America’s Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, a proven leader who is not afraid of what lies ahead and who will cast a hopeful vision for all Americans,” Robertson said during a news conference with Giuliani in Washington.

The former New York mayor backs abortion rights and gay rights, positions that put him in conflict with conservative GOP orthodoxy, and has been trying to persuade evangelical conservatives like Robertson to overlook their differences on those issues.

Evangelicals have split in their support for the leading Republican candidates. Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, a favorite of Christian conservatives who dropped out of the race last month, on Wednesday endorsed fellow Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney recently announced that Paul Weyrich and Bob Jones III were on board with his candidacy.

Asked about the Robertson endorsement, McCain, at a news conference with Brownback in Dubuque, Iowa, said: “Every once in a while, I’m left speechless. This is one of those times.”

Giuliani is best known for leading New York in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Shortly after 9/11, Robertson released a statement in which he said the attacks occurred because Americans had insulted God and lost the protection of heaven by allowing abortion and “rampant Internet pornography.”

Robertson made no mention of his differences with Giuliani on social issues in Wednesday’s statement.

Giuliani said Wednesday he got to know Robertson well on a flight from Israel.

“I came away from it with a better understanding of Pat, what he’s all about, what he’s trying to accomplish,” he said. “And I think he came away with a different impression of me, as well. We see the world, in many ways, the same way. Doesn’t mean we agree on everything.”

Text from the original article ommitted from the Grand Rapids Press version:

“Rudy Giuliani took a city that was in decline and considered ungovernable and reduced its violent crime, revitalized its core, dramatically lowered its taxes, cut through a welter of bureaucratic regulations, and did so in the spirit of bipartisanship which is so urgently needed in Washington today,” Robertson said.

Robertson, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 1988, founded the Christian Broadcasting Network, the Christian Coalition and Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va.

Also Wednesday, Giuliani said he asked two GOP friends in Congress, Reps. Peter King of New York and Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, to introduce bills to keep states from giving driver’s licenses or similar identification to illegal immigrants.

The Democratic front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton, was criticized after a televised debate last week when she hedged an answer on whether she supported New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s effort to grant licenses to illegal immigrants. Her aides say she generally supports the idea in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform.

Gunmen fire at Venezuelan students returning from anti-Chavez march

Analysis:

This Associated Press story claims that anti-Chavez students were attacked by masked gunmen after protesting the Chavez government’s intent to make further constitutional changes. The second paragraph says “Officials said at least eight people were injured Wednesday, including one by gunfire, at the Central University of Venezuela, or UCV – the country’s largest university,” but the story never verifies who these “officials” are. Only two sources were cited in the story, Antonio Rivero with Venezuela’s Civil Defense Agency and Justice Minister Pedro Carreno who blamed students, university authorities, opposition parties and the media for the violence.” However, the reporter does not verify those claims even though there are several independent media reports that the violence was perpetrated by the anti-Chavez students against pro-Chavez student from the school of social work. The website Venezuelan Analysis says “Human Rights Lawyer, Eva Golinger also said the violence started when the opposition students surrounded and attacked the pro-government students in the School of Social Work.” This same website posted an article about how the Venezuelan government is blaming the US government for instigating the violence, as well as the US media for misrepresenting what is happening in a country that is currently the

target of a media propaganda campaign by the US.

Story:

Masked gunmen opened fire on students returning from a march in which tens of thousands of Venezuelans denounced President Hugo Chavez’s attempts to expand his power through constitutional changes.

Officials said at least eight people were injured Wednesday, including one by gunfire, at the Central University of Venezuela, or UCV – the country’s largest university.

Students protested in at least six other cities, and several turned violent with rock-throwing youths clashing with police shooting plastic bullets at demonstrators.

Photographers for The Associated Press saw at least four gunmen – their faces covered by ski masks or T-shirts – firing handguns at the anti-Chavez crowd at the UCV. Terrified students ran through the campus as ambulances arrived.

Antonio Rivero, director of Venezuela’s Civil Defense agency, told Union Radio that at least eight people were injured, including one by gunfire, and that no one had been killed. Earlier, Rivero said he had been informed that one person had died in the violence.

The violence broke out after an estimated 80,000 anti-Chavez demonstrators – led by university students – marched peacefully to the Supreme Court to protest constitutional changes that would greatly expand Chavez’s power if voters agree to the changes in December. Unrest, if it continues, could mar a Dec. 2 referendum on the controversial reforms.

Dozens of angry students surrounded a building where the gunmen were hiding, set fire to benches outside and knocked out windows with rocks. Later, armed men riding motorcycles arrived, scaring off students and standing at the doorway – one of them firing a handgun in the air – as people fled the building.

Justice Minister Pedro Carreno blamed students, university authorities, opposition parties and the media for the violence.

“We want to urge the media to reflect, to stop broadcasting biased news through media manipulation, filling a part of the population with hate,” Carreno said in a televised address.

He did not provide details about the number of injured or if any suspects were arrested.

University students also staged demonstrations in the cities of Merida, Maracaibo, Puerto La Cruz, San Cristobal, Barquisimeto and Valencia on Wednesday.

Text from the original article ommitted from the Grand Rapids Press version:

The amendments being protested would abolish presidential term limits, give the president control over the Central Bank and let him create new provinces governed by handpicked officials.

The protesters demand the referendum be suspended, saying the amendments would weaken civil liberties and give Chavez unprecedented power to declare states of emergency.

“Don’t allow Venezuela to go down a path that nobody wants to cross,” student leader Freddy Guevara told Globovision during the march to the Supreme Court.

Chavez, who was first elected in 1998, denies the reforms threaten freedom. He says they would instead move Venezuela toward what he calls “21st century socialism.”

In televised comments prior to the unrest, Chavez urged Venezuelans to turn out en masse to vote for the reforms. In reference to the opposition, he said: “Don’t go crazy.”

The Supreme Court is unlikely to act on the students’ demands, given that pro-Chavez lawmakers appointed all 32 of its justices.

What People Earn

Analysis:

This story is based upon a recent issue of Parade Magazine, which features an annual story on what “Americans make” in terms of salary. The story opens with the statement “Pay is a personal issue, yet one we all wonder about – ‘How much does my neighbor make?’ is a question most people ask themselves.” Is this first sentence based on any verifiable data or study? Is there any source that is cited to support such a statement within this channel 13 story? If not, why say it? The reporter goes on to say “We, like most of America, enjoy reading Parade magazine inside our Sunday paper.” Again, if this true for most of America? What does the story mean by “most of America?” It is true that Parade Magazine appears in many Sunday newspaper editions (350 Sunday editions), but the story doesn’t say that it is also in the Grand Rapids Press and that the same company that owns the Grand Rapids Press owns Parade Magazine.

The story then shifts to the various levels of income between “the baker and the billionaire,” and even provides viewers with the web address on Parade Magazines website so you can compare your salary with other Americans. The story does not tell viewers that Salary.com is a corporate resource that “builds on-demand software around a deep domain knowledge in the area of compensation to help customers win the war for talent by simplifying the connections between people, pay and performance.” The story then goes on to source a local “compensation expert” who is the director of the Employer’s Association, which is another corporate entity that helps employers find people to work for them. The story then provides viewers with a few examples from local CEO salaries, a lawyer, an athlete, a clerk at Meijer, a fast food restaurant supervisor, and several others with smaller salaries. The layer is sourced in the story and the Employer’s Association director once again.

The story ends with the question “What is the most common, or median income around Grand Rapids?” The question is answered by providing data from the U.S. Department of Labor, but viewers should ask themselves what was the purpose of this story? Why didn’t the story get an non-business perspective on wages and salaries in the United States such as the perspective provided by the organization United for a Fair Economy, which provides a number of resources on income disparity and CEO pay versus worker pay.

Story:

Grand Rapids – Pay is a personal issue, yet one we all wonder about – ‘How much does my neighbor make?’ is a question most people ask themselves.

Our story idea is not original. We, like most of America, enjoy reading Parade magazine inside our Sunday paper. Every year, right about when taxes are due, Parade “parades” photos and pay levels of people from across the country. From the baker to the internet billionaire, it’s fascinating reading. You can learn more about What People Earn from Parade Magazine’s website.

It includes a salary wizard from http://www.salary.com. You can plug in your own data and see how your pay stacks up.

However, a compensation expert from Grand Rapids, cautions that salary dot com’s data tends to be inflated by 10 to 20%. David Smith, executive director of The Employer’s Association also says Grand Rapids pay levels, in general, “pays a bit less than the rest of the world.”

Some salaries are easy to find – if you work for a public company, or the government, they’re easily available. The highest salary in our report belongs to the C.E.O. of Steelcase, Inc. Jim Hackett. In the company’s last fiscal year, his salary was $840,000. Runnerup, sort of, was pro athlete Jimmy Howard. We says sort of since Howard’s income depends on the jersey he’s wearing. When he’s with the Detroit Red Wings, his pay rate is $733,000. When he’s in goal for the Griffins, it’s closer to $85,000.

Some people told us they don’t like to be judged on their pay level. One of them was the chief appellate attorney for the Kent County Prosecutor’s office, Tim McMurrow. He says “A lot of people will define you in terms of what your income is, and I think that’s really unfair.” McMurrow declined to tell us what his income his, but a Freedom of Information Act request revealed he’s paid $96,969 a year.

Dave Smith, of The Employer’s Association, said for most people pay “defines who they are in the perception of others.” For some of the people we encountered on the streets of Grand Rapids, it was no big deal to volunteer their pay.

Geoff Gentel, a sales clerk at Meijer, said his annual full-time income was about $10,000. Shannon Veenstra, a fast food restaurant supervisor, will bring home about $17,888 this year. Benson Garza, a laborer with a concrete company will earn $50,000.

Others making about $50,000 were mailman Dennis Kimberlin ($49,000), car salesman Dale Schaub ($45,000), and machinist Tom Slenker ($50,000).

What is the most common, or median income around Grand Rapids? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the figure is $31,242. The average income in 2006 was $38,060. Both of those figures showed increases from the year before.

Ehlers says more lawmakers see climate threat

Analysis:

This Grand Rapids Press article examines a recent event held as part of a nationwide “Step It Up 2” event calling for a 80% reduction in carbon emission by 2050. While the article contained the primary demand of the campaign, it failed to cite any organizers or discuss specific stemps being sought by the campaign to reduce emission.

Representative Vern Ehlers is the only person cited in the article. Ehlers says that the environmental movement’s efforts to draw attention to global warming have been successful and that there are few people in Congress now that doubt global warming. The article makes no mention of current efforts to address global warming in Congress or Ehlers’ record on the environment.

Story:

GRAND RAPIDS — West Michigan environmental groups today joined a national effort to call for legislation to reduce carbon emissions in the United States by 80 percent by 2050.

Today’s event, attended by about 50, was part of the “Step it Up” campaign to demonstrate to federal, state and local lawmakers that environmental issues are of broad concern to the public.

The group’s first event in April drew about 400 people and was one of about 1,400 events nationwide.

Today’s event was held at The Rapid central station, the Grand Rapids area bus system’s headquarters.

Congressman Vern Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids, told those gathered that efforts to convince members of Congress have worked. Only a handful of his colleagues still harbor doubts about the threat of climate change, compared to a decade ago when questions remained as to whether it was even a real issue.

“The good news is that we have passed a crucial point,” Ehlers said. “The key questions 10 years ago were is global warming real, what’s causing it and what can we do about it? Just about every member of Congress is at least past that first question.”

Today’s event was sponsored by the Sierra Club, West Michigan Environmental Action Council and the United Steelworkers of America Blue Green Alliance.

For sale: 8 1/2-bath, 1-helicopter-pad lakefront getaway

Analysis:

This story appeared on the front page of the Grand Rapids Press, right under a story about a guy who carves wooden pumpkins. The first question to ask yourself is “how did this information get to the GR Press?” Was it part of a media release from the DeVos family or from Greenridge Reality? The story reads like an ad from a company that sells houses, with lengthy descriptions of what the house looks like, the surrounding property, even dimensions of the home are included.

The only sources used in the story is a statement from the Agent that listed the property for sale, a neighbor who said they loved to see the DeVos helicopter land, and another wealthy neighbor/developer who was confident that the property would sell. There is a bit of information from the Holland City Assessor’s office on the value of the property, but no other information is provided. Accompanying the front page story is a photo of the home and a fact box with information that is included at the end of the story on your left. Why did the Grand Rapids Press consider this news? Why list property sales as a news story, especially since they don’t do this when average income citizens sell their homes? Does this suggest that there is favoritism when reporting on the DeVos family? Lastly, how does this story provide useful information for those living in West Michigan?

Story:

With a three-car garage, a dock that can accommodate four boats, and a helicopter pad, Holland’s most expensive home was built to be the ultimate summer getaway.

After upgrading to a Lake Michigan mansion near Tunnel Park in neighboring Park Township, billionaire Richard DeVos is selling his longtime summer compound on Lake Macatawa for $4.5 million.

Spread along 2.9 acres on South Shore Drive, the estate features a 12,146-square-foot house with five bedrooms and 8 1/2 bathrooms, and a 1,128-square-foot guest house with two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Outside, the property offers deep-water frontage the length of three football fields. Inside the plush residence, amenities include marble floors, a gourmet kitchen and indoor pool.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own the most significant estate on Lake Macatawa,” agent Ken Grashuis says on his Greenridge Realty Inc. Web site.

Grashuis, who was vacationing in Florida, could not be reached for comment. And a DeVos spokeswoman did not return a call for comment.

A tour of the house is by appointment only. Even without a tour, you still can take a peek via Grashuis’ Web site, which offers eight photos of the home’s exterior, including the lake view and tennis court.

Completed in 1984, the contemporary-style residence was built by Dan Vos Construction.

The Ada Township-based construction company also built Hope College’s $22 million DeVos Fieldhouse in 2005 and the Alticor Corp. World Headquarters in Ada.

The selling price is a tad more than what Holland Assessing Administrator Dave VanderHeide pegs the property at.

City records place the value of the parcel with the main house at about $3.6 million, and a second parcel with the guest house at $700,000, for a total of $4.3 million.

But having the Amway co-founder and his wife, Helen, for neighbors was priceless, say those who lived nearby. When her children were little, DeVos would play with them on the swing set, said Cathy Koop, who lives next door in a brick Colonial.

“They were wonderful neighbors,” Koop said.

Having a billionaire neighbor who came and went by air, water or land was fun.

“We loved watching the helicopter. Everybody would run to the window to watch it. We got a real kick out of it,” Koop said.

Earlier this year, DeVos bought a $6.2 million home on North Lakeshore Drive, one of several pieces of property he’s acquiring along that corridor, records show.

For his old neighbors, the question is: How long will they have to wait for the sound of whirling blades to fill the air again?

Holland developer and South Shore Drive neighbor Scott Geerlings doesn’t think the tough real estate market has reached multimillion-dollar mansions.

“That’s the only part of the market that is good,” Geerlings said, taking a phone call between rounds of golf.

“It’s a beautiful piece of property, and I think it should sell.”

There still will be a DeVos in the neighborhood. DeVos’ son Dick owns a summer house down the street.

Holland’s priciest house

The DeVos place on Lake Macatawa:

Address: 1025 South Shore Drive

Price: $4.5 million

Down payment: $225,000

Monthly mortgage (30 years at 6.75 percent): $27,727.57

Annual property taxes: $77,000

Listed on: Agent Ken Grashuis’ Greenridge Realty properties page at greenridge.com/agent/proplist.asp?CEQ_AgentCode=277

Race across GR nets free tacos, pain

Analysis:

This story that appeared in the “Your Life” section of the GR Press is based upon a promotional stunt between the fast food chain Taco Bell and Major League Baseball. Why do you think that the Grand Rapids Press would pay one of their reporters to drive around town with a Press photographer and eat tacos from Taco Bell? How does this story pass as journalism? Would the Press pay a reporter to spend as much time driving to 10 different fast food restaurants and ask the workers about their wages and working conditions? The GR Press may argue that this is meant as a humorous entertainment piece, but how does that inform the community about what entertainment options are available to citizens of West Michigan?

Story:

A free taco is tempting.

Ten free tacos in three hours? Equally hard to resist, but much harder to digest.

Allow me to explain. Last week, a certain fast-food chain announced it would give everyone in America a free taco if a player stole a base during the World Series. A base was stolen (thanks, Boston Red Sox rookie Jacoby Ellsbury) and, from 2 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, free tacos were served.

Because the company earned tons of free publicity for this giveaway, I’ll avoid using its name more than necessary, other than to say there are more than a dozen Taco Bell locations in the Grand Rapids area. My self-appointed mission was to stop at 10 and eat a free taco within the allotted time.

Dishonest? Yeah. Unhealthy? Most likely. Gross? No doubt. But hey, free tacos.

So, with a map in hand and a gut full of pre-emptive Pepto Bismol, I set out with a photographer to claim 10 times my share of free Crunchy Seasoned Beef Tacos. Call it early trick-or-treating, only with more meat and lettuce than usual.

I expected Hannah Montana levels of hysteria at each franchise, with lines spilling out the doors, but was perplexed to discover business-as-usual crowds and zero fanfare.

That was probably a conscious decision on the company’s part.

Once you’ve committed to giving away 300 million tacos, it’s understandable you would want to keep it quiet on the big day.

That would explain why the promotion happened during the normally slow late afternoon. It also would explain a lot of the eye-rolling from employees when I strode proudly to each counter and demanded a free taco and nothing else. Apparently, the ploy was to lure customers into the restaurants and get them to buy other items. Sorry, not interested.

At any rate, it’s too early to guess whether the promotion was successful. I would say it probably was, in terms of buzz. When was the last time you heard people chatting about fast-food tacos?

I wasn’t the only person with the franchise-hopping idea.

At my ninth stop, I met Chad, a 24-year-old Grand Rapids resident who wouldn’t give his last name. The 44th Street location was his fourth stop of a planned six.

“I just have to,” Chad said. “You gotta take advantage of things like this.”

And take advantage we did.

The company’s Web site had some threatening language about managers being able to turn away customers if there was reason to believe they already received their free taco. By the time I was almost done, the green tint to my face should have been all the tip-off they needed.

But I persevered. By 4:45 p.m., I had a sore gut to prove I consumed way more tacos than any human ever should.

After the fact, I came across donateyourtaco.com. Visitors to the site who didn’t want their Crunchy Seasoned Beef could submit their name, and the site would ask Taco Bell to donate the value of the unclaimed tacos (77 cents apiece) to the American Red Cross.

Great idea. But, since I found the site too late, I’m hoping someone will make a charitable donation to Buy-Troy-Some-More-Pepto-Bismol.com.

I asked a co-worker if she cared to join me on the excursion, and she said, “My body is a temple.” I guess that would make mine something like a garage, or a shed.

Eating together matters

Analysis:

This story first appeared in the New York Times. The Grand Rapids Press’ version is slightly shorter and is based on recent research by the Minnesota School of Public Health. The sub-heading in the GR Press version says “Study shows families who dine near TV are well-fed, have good diets.” The research was printed in The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior in October, but looking at the abstract of the article it says in the conclusions and recommendations section that “Watching television during family meals was associated with poorer dietary quality among adolescents. Health care providers should work with families and adolescents to promote family meals, emphasizing turning the TV off at meals.”

The article also states, “One study, published in The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in 2004, found that even after controlling for family connectedness, kids who had seven or more family meals a week were far less likely to smoke, drink alcohol or use marijuana than those who had just one or none.” Why do you think that this aspect of the story is not highlighted in the headline? The Press version of the article concludes with a comment about how TV viewing during meals might not be that bad for teenagers, but the original story ends with the importance of family meals and how parents can be good role models.

Story:

Television viewing has long been linked with poor eating habits. So when University of Minnesota researchers embarked on a study of family meals, they fully expected that having the TV on at dinner would take a toll on children’s diets.

But to their surprise, it didn’t make much difference. Families who watched TV at dinner ate just about as healthfully as families who dined without it. The biggest factor wasn’t whether the TV was on or off, but whether the family was eating the meal together.

“Obviously, we want people eating family meals, and we want them to turn the TV off,” said Shira Feldman, public health specialist at the university’s School of Public Health and lead author of the research. “But just the act of eating together is on some level very beneficial, even if the TV is on.”

The research, published this month in The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, is the latest testament to the power of the family meal. While many parents worry about what their kids are eating — vegetables versus junk — a voluminous body of research suggests that the best strategy for improving a child’s diet is simply putting food on the table and sitting down together to eat it.

The importance of the family meal has been shown mainly in studies from the University of Minnesota, Harvard and Rutgers that have looked at family eating habits of nearly 40,000 middle-school students and teenagers. The research has shown that those who regularly have meals with their parents eat more fruits, vegetables and calcium-rich foods, ingest more vitamins and nutrients, and consume less junk food. Some of the research has shown that kids who regularly sit down to a family meal are at lower risk for behaviors like smoking and drug and alcohol use.

But as is the case with all studies that observe people over time, the big question is whether the family meal really leads to healthier habits. Could it be that kids from happier, more health-conscious families are simply more likely to sit down to a family meal?

University of Minnesota researchers have sought to answer that question by looking at “family connectedness,” which essentially measures the psychological health of a family. Children from highly connected families have been shown to eat healthier foods, get better grades and have lower risk for smoking and drug and alcohol use. But in the Minnesota research, whether the family was connected or troubled was less important than whether they regularly dined together. One study, published in The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in 2004, found that even after controlling for family connectedness, kids who had seven or more family meals a week were far less likely to smoke, drink alcohol or use marijuana than those who had just one or none.

In the latest study measuring the effects of television, researchers surveyed the eating habits of about 5,000 middle and high school students in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The data were collected during the 1998-99 school year but analyzed only recently. About two-thirds of the students reported that they ate dinner with their parents at least three times a week. But about half of that group said they also watched television during the family meal.

Over all, the children ate healthier foods if the television was turned off, but the differences weren’t as big as researchers expected.

The biggest effect was seen among the kids who didn’t eat regular family meals at all. Girls who dined alone ate fewer fruits, vegetables and calcium-rich foods and more soft drinks and snack foods than girls who ate with their parents. And girls who ate with their parents ate more calories — up to 14 percent more, suggesting that dining alone puts girls at higher risk for eating disorders. Boys who didn’t eat with their parents had fewer vegetables and calcium-rich foods than family diners.

The lesson for parents, say the study authors, is that being together at dinner is what counts. Having the TV on during the meal, while not desirable, can also serve a purpose if it helps bring sullen teenagers and families to the table.

Text from the original article ommitted from the Grand Rapids Press version:

Why a family meal can make such a difference isn’t entirely clear. It may be that parents simply put better food on the table when everyone gets together. People dining alone tend to eat pizza, for instance, while families who order pizza together tend to put vegetables or a salad on the table, Ms. Feldman noted.

It may also be that dining together allows parents to set a better eating example for their kids. And mealtime is often the only chance parents have to actually look over their busy teenagers, catch up on their lives and visually assess behavioral or physical changes that might signal problems.

Dr. Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, who has led much of the Minnesota research, says that when parents hear the data about the importance of the family meal, they often feel guilty if work schedules and teenagers’ extracurricular activities keep them from dining together.

The key, she said, is togetherness, not timing. A family that is scattered at the dinner hour might be able to meet regularly for breakfast instead. And even adding one or two more family meals to the week is better than nothing. “I would put the emphasis on just looking at where your family is now and seeing what you can do to improve,” Dr. Neumark-Sztainer said. “I think many people just don’t realize how important the family meal really is.”