A white-hot winter?


This article from the Grand Rapids Press primarily focuses area meteorologists and their predictions for winter snowfall. Aside from this, the article attempts to connect snowfall patterns with global warming. Does the Press make a convincing case that there is a connection? Do they provide any scientific sources to make this connection?

Beyond the snowfall predictions, the Press also reports on the positions of five West Michigan meteorologists with regard to global warming. Of the four, three believe that global warming is “real.” They differ over whether or not global warming will have an effect this winter, with most arguing that its effect is more long-term and will not have an effect on this winter. Despite this, the most space is given to WOOD TV 8 meteorologist Craig James, who according to the Press, “remains skeptical about global warming.”

The Press gives James’ space to make the claim that “the science is anything but settled whether carbon dioxide is to blame.” However, the Press never investigates this claim despite the fact that four other meteorologists and significant portions of the scientific community disagree with James’ opinion. Would readers have benefited from an investigation of this claim?

The Press reporter also apparently asked James about Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth film, to which James says “There were many, many errors in his movie. There are some gross oversimplifications.” Again, the Press failed to investigate James’ claim that there were errors in the movie. Since it was released, there has been a concentrated attack on Gore’s film, including ads aired on television by the oil industry-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute. In addition, an online ad that was designed to be “amateur” was in reality produced by a lobbying and public relations firm that has represented Exxon. In a lawsuit brought to court by global warming skeptics in England, a judge ruled that there were nine “errors” in An Inconvenient Truth–most of which centered on interpretations of data–although the film was “broadly accurate” in its claim that global warming is a fact and is happening because of human action. Would readers have been better served by an investigation of James’ claim that An Inconvenient truth had “many, many errors?”

Moreover, it is also worth noting that on his blog at WOODTV.COM, Craig James has referenced numerous entities connected to the oil industry. The industry has funded a number of groups to create “confusion” over the science pertaining to global warming. Would it have been beneficial if James’ previous statements–including his membership in ICECAP (a website and organization promoting “skepticism” over global warming)–were disclosed in the Press article? Does his relationship to these entities shape his opinion?


by Ted Roelofs

Global warming?

Most of our local weather experts say, yes, it’s real. Glaciers are melting. Greenland is greening.

But don’t expect agreement on whether that means more or less snow this winter, as they serve up their annual forecasts for The Press. Predictions are about as consistent as the Detroit Lions.

WZZM-TV meteorologist George Lessens looks north to the polar ice cap, noting that sea ice “melted to unprecedented levels” over the summer. He thinks this winter “might be influenced by global warming.”

For Lessens, it adds up to snowfall of 65 inches, about 7 inches below average, and warmer-than-normal temperatures.

National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Marino peers at the same set of observations and comes to a different conclusion.

Marino agrees that global warming is real. He says evidence is mounting that humans are causing it by dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

But Marino expects 80 inches of snow, mostly based on a pattern of cooling Pacific Ocean waters known as La Nina. Weather, says Marino, is far too complex to squeeze into a tidy little prediction box.

Global warming hardly means every winter in Michigan will be warm.

“It’s more complicated than anyone can figure out,” he said.

“They use supercomputers, and they still don’t have enough information to figure it all correctly.”

WOOD-TV meteorologist Craig James remains skeptical about global warming.

“We are certainly in a warmer period than we were in the 1960s and 1970s,” James said. “But the science is anything but settled whether carbon dioxide is to blame.”

As for former Vice President Al Gore — who made global warming a household word with his film “An Inconvenient Truth” — James is not exactly a fan.

“There were many, many errors in his movie. There are some gross oversimplifications.”

That said, James foresees a warm, with the same 65 inches of snow as Lessens predicted.

At WWMT-TV, meteorologist Keith Thompson offers no cold comfort for winter enthusiasts.

He predicts just 61 inches of snow, 11 inches below normal.

“Not a good year for the ski hills and snowmobilers,” he says.

As for global warming, Thompson says: “I believe it is real.”

But Thompson says his forecast has little to do with that, adding that effects of global warming “are marked over several years or even decades, not one or two years.”

‘Slimy, gooey gunk’ in man’s iced tea


This story–fairly lengthy at more than two minutes by broadcast journalism standards–covers the story of West Michigan whose bottle of ice tea had a “gooey gunk” in it. What is the news value of this story? Does this story warrant the amount of time devoted to it? Was an investigation by two WOOD TV 8 reporters necessary?

This story is a perfect example of a “fluff” piece. “Fluff” pieces are stories aired on broadcast newscasts that cover stories that essentially have no news value, such as a cat getting stuck in a tree. The stories might be comical, but they do nothing to help inform viewers of important events and issues at the local, state, and national levels.


News Reader #1: Is it tainted tea? A West Michigan man is asking a lot of questions about what he bought at a lake shore gas station.

News Reader #2: 24 Hour News 8 Larry Neinhaus has more on what the man found inside that bottle.

Larry Neinhaus: Well, Brian, Sue, it is a bottle like this one–Gold Peak–though this is the unsweetened one that we actually got out of our vending machine here at WOOD TV 8. The customer’s name is Shane Smith. Now he describes what he sees inside his unopened bottle as “slimy… with dark spots… a gooey gunk.” And after seeing it, we couldn’t agree more. And it’s a bottle of Gold Peak sweetened ice tea that he will not be drinking.

Shane Smith: I went to open it up and I saw this thing moving in the bottle and this is what I saw.

Larry Neinhaus: A collective yuck from all of us who are now seeing it. Shane bought the ice tea at the Shell service station at Exit 41 off westbound I-196. Now he called us and since it’s a Coca-Cola product he called Coke. A customer service spokeswoman asked first for some product numbers on the bottle.

Shane Smith: She told me first not to open it and that she would probably contact me in the next couple of days and soon after that it made me nervous because is there something else? Is this something that could make somebody sick?

Larry Neinhaus: That’s one of the questions tonight, the other, what exactly is it? And we got one possible answer to that one. 24 Hour News 8’s Mark Thompson got a hold of Gold Peak’s spokesman on the phone on the scene and this is what Ray Crockett told us.

Ray Crockett: What this commonly is, is mold that will grow in the bottle, particularly if it’s heat abused or if it’s past its sell buy date.

Larry Neinhaus: That expiration date is February 25th of next year. But Ray Crockett tells us the heat exposure could happen when the bottle is stored after shipping. Health hazard? Crockett says no, but drinking it would not be a good idea.

Shane Smith: Gold Peak ice tea, yeah.

Motorist: Oh my god.

Shane Smith: Don’t know what that is.

Motorist: Interesting.

Shane Smith: Haven’t popped the lid, so… yeah, yeah, it is gross.

Larry Neinhaus: Now at that Shell gas station we did not find any other Gold Peak bottles like it. The gas station says that it is right now going through all of its inventory to make sure there are no other bottles like that. If they find anything suspect, they’ll pull it from the shelves. And Gold Peak tonight says it’s looking into the matter and we will let you know what they find.

It’s a nursery, not a garage


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.


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.”

WZZM 13: Winter is cold



This story has no relevance to West Michigan. Viewers could rightly question what rational WZZM has for running this piece on the local news.


WZZM Newsreader – The weather is cold, very cold in Lithuania, the temperatures across the Baltic’s and Russia dropped below zero today where they’ve held steady for several days. Swans have gone to warmer waters coming in from a thermal plant along the Baltic sea. And a belly dancing convention refused to reschedule, they promised to perform despite the cold.

Total Time: 25 seconds

Blueberry Blues



This story is typical of the local news “personal profile” style of segment. The actual news value of the piece is rather low, which little information that would actually help a viewer to be better informed about their community or the world at large. Rather, this piece is meant to be entertaining with the purpose of attracting viewers and higher ratings. Hence the irrelevant and sensationalized details such as the “cross” left in the charred remains of the barn.


Newsreader – Their jobs were in the air after a fire tore through an Allegan County Blueberry farm. But, they’ve bounced back against all odds while others are singing the Blueberry Blues. 24 Hour News 8’s Brad Edwards is back from Saugatuck now with more on the story…Brad?

Reporter – Good evening Susie and that’s right, drought has turned many a farmland into dry and dusty dirt land, and for one, the bite was twice as harsh. A freak fire toasted their dream 6 months ago. “There’s no way you’ll come back,” most said–they replied “just watch.”

Reporter – Just beyond the cattails lays a tale of the comeback. Krupka’s, it’s called, for the married Krupkas.

Reporter – 30 years, huh? Harold, does it seem like it’s been that long?

Farmer – Yes.

Reporter – Hahaha!

Reporter – This is Harold’s dream. 40 years ago it was a few acres, now…

Wife – …we have 11 farms with 350 acres.

Reporter – Harold’s right-hand woman-his wife, Connie.

Wife – We like ’em this way, right off the bush.

Reporter – And they’re really good. And Harold isn’t just any old Harry…

Wife – Everybody in the world knows Crazy Harold. And Harold’s crazy. And we love each other.

Reporter – Most of their years were flush with smiles. Not this one.

Reporter – Worst you’ve ever had?

Farmer – Yah, this is the worst, ya.

Reporter – No season was ever drier. They’ve weathered it with massive irrigation. On the flipside of the summer sizzle, the frost-bitten January morn when this happened, they drove strait through from Florida.

Wife – Neither of us talked, and when we pulled up that driveway…I never saw Harold like that, it was sad. It was the worst day of our life, it was like a funeral.

Reporter – Torched, except for the wooden letters of the Krupka’s sign, a sign made by Harold’s dad who died shortly before the fire.

Wife – And those letters were laying on the ground and had not burnt.

Reporter – Amongst fire, the wooden letters just fell. And rising from that spot…

Wife – …was a steel cross.

Reporter – …and you thought?

Wife – I didn’t know what to think, it gave us goosebumps.

Reporter – Not sure what to do at first, they then rebuilt in a mere few months. It is what it is, maybe not a bona-fide blueberry miracle, but it’s at least a guy they call Crazy and his sweetheart determined to harvest their passion.

Reporter – Do you toast a berry?

Wife – Haha, it’s not like a glass of wine!

Reporter – And the comeback really started when they stared rebuilding only 4 months ago, and they supply some biggies, like Yoplait Yogurt and Dunkin’ Donuts. Their official harvest season begins tomorrow. Tom?

Time: 2:40

The Local News Plays Matchmaker



Viewers should ask themselves what news value this story has. The story is trivial and it is from Omaha, well outside the viewing area of WXMI 17. It has no relevance to West Michigan.


WZZM 13 News reader – A Nebraska man doesn’t want to be lonely anymore, so he is advertising for a wife everywhere he can. No he goes by just his first name Harold. He is a truck driver and he says he doesn’t meet many women. On days when he is not driving he stands on an Omaha street corner with a sign for his website – will work for a wife.org. He also printed up business cards in order to billboard to help meet his mate.

Truck driver – Well I’d love to be married by Christmas if you want the truth on it, but I don’t know that that will happen.

Guy driving by – I got a former sister-in-law he might be interested in.

WZZM 13 News reader – Harold expects his wife search could end up costing him about $10,000. If you want to know more about him go to the news links section of our website wzzm13.com. If he gets married it is going to cost him a lot more than $10,000.

Total Time – 54 seconds

Selective Editing Concerning Election Reform


The article is about a task force of election officials put together by a non-profit group called The Election Center. This Task force put out a series of recommendations for reforming elections in the US. Chief among these recommendations is the creation of centralized “voting centers”, that is, a central locale where all the residents in a county could vote without having to worry about what precinct they are from. The article also states that the authors of the report “focus much of their attention on voters and poll workers rather than voting machines — the subject of so much debate ever since the 2000 presidential stalemate in Florida.” This was the only mention in the Grand Rapids Press version of the article about electronic voting machines.

Considering how contentious the issue of electronic voting machines where in the last election, it is reasonable to wonder why the issue of electronic voting machines was not further explored in this report. One possible explanation is that the Election Center has, according to the online source Source Watch received funding from Sequoia Voting Systems Inc., Election systems and Software inc, and Diebold Election systems, all companies that manufacture electronic voting machines. This fact about some of the Election Center’s funding is important contextual information and yet it was not included in the Grand Rapids Press version of this article. To give the reporter his due credit, the original, full version of this article does mention that the Election Center has received contributions from voting machine manufacturers. It also notes the Election Center report pointedly downplaying a widespread push for paper receipts from touch screen voting systems, a position also held by the electronic voting machine manufacturers. This information about the Election Center’s connection of voting machine manufacturers is important in that it brings into question the objectivity of this Election Center report and yet the Grand Rapids press choose to edit it out of the story before printing it.


It’s all about the voter: elections task force says

By Robert Tanner

AP National Writer

Published: Jun 07, 2005 12:54 AM EST

(AP) – The nation’s election administrators say it’s time to restructure elections to reflect the way Americans live, scrapping neighborhood precincts and Election Day for large, customer-oriented “vote centers” where people could cast ballots over a period of weeks.

In a new, sweeping report, state and local officials focus much of their attention on voters and poll workers rather than voting machines — the subject of so much debate ever since the 2000 presidential stalemate in Florida.

“We are looking forward, we are looking at ways to make elections better,” said Dawn Williams, who oversees voting in Marshall County, Iowa. She co-chaired a task force of officials and former officials from 15 states that was set up by the Houston-based Election Center.

So-called “universal vote centers,” introduced two years ago on a limited basis in Colorado, could end some of the biggest flaws in the way Americans vote if widely implemented, administrators said.

Such centers eliminate confusion over where to vote, since everyone in a county can vote at any center; reduce lines by allowing for more equipment and staff at fewer locations; and prevent mistakes by better marshaling well-trained election officials along with day workers.

“It addresses what happened in Florida in 2000 better than the (federal) Help America Vote Act” — the law Congress passed to fix elections three years ago, said Larimer County (Colorado) Clerk Scott Doyle, who came up with the idea. “It’s the way America lives. Why shouldn’t America vote that way?”

Doyle sought and won a change in state law that allowed him to replace 143 precincts with 20 vote centers. Larger facilities — hotel ballrooms and state fairgrounds — allow easier access and parking for voters, and more efficient concentration of resources for administrators.

“There’s an opportunity here to better meet our voters’ needs and save millions of dollars,” Doyle said. With vote centers, the county can save several hundred thousand dollars by buying fewer handicapped-accessible voting machines, since the new federal law requires one at each polling location, he said.

The report, to be officially released Tuesday, also backs a growing trend toward voting over days and weeks, rather than just Election Day.

At least 30 states have already broadened their balloting rules, expanding absentee voting to “no excuse” voting — so anyone who wants to vote absentee is allowed.

The task force also suggested that states:

—Prohibit companies that register new voters from getting paid by the number of registrants and punish those that misuse the process.

—Assist felons by providing them with a faster way to regain voting rights, where allowed, and better election information.

—Share voter registration information between states to avoid duplication and safeguard against fraud.

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

In some places, residents can also vote early, in person, as much as a month ahead of Election Day.

“We’ve got to look at how we make this better for voters at all points. Don’t try to fix the symptoms but say, `What is causing the problem and how do we fix them?'” said Doug Lewis, executive director of the Election Center, which trains election officials.

“Here are some concepts. They’re not revolutionary concepts, they’re evolutionary,” Lewis said.

The report also urges state legislators to consider an “independently verifiable” record of each voter’s ballot from ATM-style touchscreen voting machines that could be electronic, video or some other form — pointedly downplaying a widespread push for paper receipts from touchscreens.

Elections administrators have taken a fair share of blame for the nation’s electoral troubles in recent years.

Many critics say local and state officials have been complacent or worse about threats to the electoral system, including worries that people seeking to manipulate elections could hack into computerized machines and rig the results.

The faults in the machines are real and can’t be ignored, said Avi Rubin, a Johns Hopkins University computer science professor. Election officials should heed the computer science community’s warnings, he said.

The Election Center has come in for criticism after reports that the nonprofit, nonpartisan group accepts contributions from voting machine manufacturers. Two members of the task force are former local election administrators who’ve formed their own election-related businesses.

The report is one of several continuing efforts to improve elections as disputes continue over 2004 results.

Most prominent among those was the 129-vote victory of Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, who won office on the third count of the votes. A state judge upheld her victory Monday.

More irrelevant animal footage



Another strange animal story pulled form a national news feed. Much like the WZZM 13 pieces on the “suicidal possum” or the “super freak calf”, this WOOD 8 piece is of no news value but is aired because of its compelling and unusual visual images.


Newsreader – There was a unique road hazard in Florida for the morning commute. A big alligator, right there, shut down a main road in West Palm Beach for about an hour this morning. A trapper was called in to tape the gator’s mouth shut and haul it away. Officers say that the gator did not threaten anyone; it was just sitting there in the middle of the road.

Total Time: 16 seconds

Yet Another Strange Animal Story



Another story featuring unusual footage of animals with no relevance to the West Michigan viewing audience. This style of “fluff” story has appeared on all three local TV stations recently.


Newsreader #1 – A Texas car owner has some weird noises coming from his car. It’s kind of a buzzing noise. It’s thousands of bees clustered near the back bumper of his car. The owner says he first found them spread out across the entire back of the car. Since then, though, they’ve all gathered in that one spot in the corner. The thing is, nobody’s sure why the bees picked that spot to hang on to. A bee keeper had to be called in to scrape them all off.

Newsreader #2 – Ugh.

Newsreader #1 – Ugh.

Total Time: 27 seconds

Baghdad as “Fun City”



The ongoing war and occupation in Iraq has been receiving less coverage in the local news than previously seen. This short story about “fun city” was the only Iraq coverage on FOX 17 that day. This story does little to inform the viewer about the reality in Iraq. The story does acknowledge the “car bombs and terror in the streets” but is framed in a way to give the impression that things are improving since the amusement park is now open. This way of framing the story obscures the fact that violence and disorder are increasing in Iraq, not the opposite.


WXMI Newsreader – Despite the war that has torn its county apart, sounds of fun are returning slowly to the heart of Baghdad, it’s our Freeze Frame tonight. Fun City is an older amusement park built three decades ago in the Eastern side of the city. It closed during the U.S. led invasion and is slowly coming back to life. Families are going there to unwind, laugh, and escape the car bombs and terror in their streets.

Total Time: 23 seconds