National News

Political ads keep community papers afloat

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-22 03:57

For years now, newspapers and magazines have been dealing with a decline in advertising, including a drop in political advertising. There is an exception to that, however. Candidates still see value in periodicals that serve specific communities, including Spanish speakers and African-Americans.

“I think that many campaigns consider these as relatively inexpensive ways of reaching people that they may not be able to reach otherwise,” says Felipe Korzenny, who heads the Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication at Florida State University.

That makes these newspapers popular with local candidates, and no-brainers for national candidates who get a lot of bang for their buck.

“Newspaper advertising budgets are a rounding era in campaign budgets,” says Ken Goldstein, an expert on election ads at the University of San Francisco. Still, many newspapers are not eager to leave any money on the table, and they play up their ability to help advertisers target specific segments of the population.

“In some ways, newspapers were the Internet before the Internet was the Internet,” Goldstein says. In a way, micro-targeting, which is in vogue right now, started with these smaller print publications.

Chicago Defender publisher Cheryl Mainor is the first woman to run the paper in its 109-year history. The Defender, she says, continues to have a loyal readership among African-Americans in Chicago and around the country.

“We have been able to stand where others who are more generalized have fallen,” Mainor says.

The newspaper has covered and engaged with local politics from the very beginning. It was founded during the Great Migration, and Mainor says she expects there will be “a significant amount of political advertising” ahead of city elections in the spring. Aldermen see the paper as a way to reach their constituents, and state and national politicians know it is a way to reach specific voters — something that is hard to do with TV ads.

“When you place an ad in the publication that they read, that they trust, that they respect, and you’re asking them for their vote, now you’re actually talking to them,” Mainor says.

According to media analyst Ken Doctor, with Newsonomics, papers like the Defender are attractive for another reason. Campaigns spend a lot of time going after undecided voters, “but that voter who has made up his or her mind, but is not yet sure they are going to the polls, is equally important — mathematically equally important.”

And part of mission of the Chicago Defender has been, and continues to be, to get its readers to vote.

U.S. Prisoner Swap For Bergdahl Broke The Law, GAO Says

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-22 03:49

The Pentagon didn't give enough notice to Congress and misused nearly $1 million when it swapped Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban leaders, the Government Accountability Office says.

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Silicon Tally: Pizza pushers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-22 02:00

It's time for Silicon Tally. How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, we're joined by Cyrus Summerlin, co-founder of the latest in food technology: "Push for Pizza"

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Outside Group Mirrors Successful Strategies Of Political Parties

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-22 00:56

A U.S. Senate seat is up for grabs in Iowa, and the GOP has opened 11 field offices statewide. But there's also a new team working the state, the Virginia-based group Americans for Prosperity.

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The Dread Factor: Why Ebola And 'Contagion' Scare Us So Much

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-21 23:31

Even just the word Ebola is kind of terrifying. Why? Hollywood has a lot to do with it. But Ebola outbreaks also have all the ingredients for what one psychologist calls the "dread factor."

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TV's New Doctor Who Has An Old Connection To The Series

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-21 23:29

The BBC will soon air its first Doctor Who episode with Peter Capaldi as the show's hero, The Doctor. Capaldi says the 50-year-old series inspired him to become an actor.

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GAO: Bergdahl Exchange Violated Law

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-21 20:57

Congressional investigators say the Pentagon broke the law when it swapped Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held prisoner in Afghanistan for five years, for five Taliban leaders.

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Can algorithms tell you hate beheading videos?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-21 19:26

To look at media coverage this summer is to witness a season of violence in the real world. A plane shot down in Ukraine, the suicide of Robin Williams, the Ebola outbreak that is now an International Public Health Emergency, everything that's happening in Ferguson, Missouri and the rise of ISIS are just a few of the stories on the list. Even for those of us who see news events blend together in a seemingly endless daily grind, it's tough to watch. A friend and news junkie told me this week he had "no stomach" for the story of beheaded photojournalist James Foley. Yesterday I was reading statements from Foley's family saying how proud they were of him and the work he did, and I started to cry. That is not something I do very often. 

It is cliche at this point to say that "the 24-hour news cycle" and "the age of the Internet" contribute to our perception about the volume and intensity of this violence, but it is also true. Just this week I interviewed David Carr on how tweets about Ferguson influenced coverage of the events there in a big way. Twitter is an especially compelling tool for the news media, in part because of its chronological design--something Zach Seward at Quartz just used to compare it to regular television. But culling social media for news is tricky, because news is filtered and social media is not. After family members had to beg users to stop sharing James Foley's beheading video, and following Zelda Williams quitting Twitter because of people assaulting her with violent imagery following her dad's death, the social network has announced this week that it will respect takedown requests on a case-by-case basis

Twitter and other companies might need to do more than that. For Thursday's show we spoke with USC Professor Karen North about an interesting problem: how algorithms can reward the content we don't want to like, upvote, or even share. U.S.-born tech companies like Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook have unique challenges when it comes to takedown requests, because they don't want to censor content that should be allowed to exist. But an algorithm used to measure and organize the stuff that comes in can give points for all kinds of engagement. If you're giving a YouTube video a thumbs down, you're still engaging with the content, which might improve that content's standing. Watching it all the way through might help, too.

It's important to note that this depends a lot on the company you're talking about and the algorithm you're talking about. Algorithms, like Google's mysterious search algorithm, are being changed all the time, too. But as Jon Lee Anderson writes in The New Yorker, "there is no longer any doubt that the Internet, with its power of contagion and usefulness for recruiting, has become a preferred, particular tool of terrorists." When you put that next to the possibility that our online behavior, even when we don't want it to, might be rewarding the content of terrorists, you don't feel so good about the Internet's impact on world events. As users, we should be thinking about how our online behavior, however passive, can have an impact. Tech companies should also keep thinking about the impact of not just their takedown policies, but the tools they use to comb through and curate the content they're hosting. 

Teaching theology... for profit?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-21 13:55

For-profit colleges are not exactly known for leafy campuses or lofty philosophical discussions. Most of their marketing focuses on getting a practical degree — like business or medical assisting — in hopes of getting a better job.

But one for-profit university based in Savannah, Georgia, is venturing into new territory: offering theology degrees to aspiring clergy members.

At South University in Savannah, a handful of students are starting classes toward a new Doctor of Ministry degree. Among this pilot class of four students is Gregory Kinsey, of Green Pond, South Carolina.  Kinsey says he’s been a pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church for 15 years — but that's not his only job.

"I’m bivocational," Kinsey says. "I do work in a school system as an administrator, and I just wanted to enhance my ministry."

Kinsey says he likes the fact that this theology program draws students from a variety of denominations.

Robb Redman is dean of the College of Theology at South University. He says this for-profit college can also operate more efficiently, with fewer faculty and more practical classes like counseling, rather than biblical Greek. Redman says most seminaries depend on the whims of donors.

"There’s something kind of ... broken in theological education," he says, "so it seems like now is a good time to try out a different model. And I think the for-profit model points the way forward."

At close to $50,000, the Doctor of Ministry degree at South University costs about the same as many better-known, non-profit seminaries. And it's not clear whether the for-profit model will take off.

"I don’t think there’s enough money in theological education for a whole lot of providers to be able to do it and make money at it," says Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada.

Aleshire is also skeptical about whether a largely online school can give pastors-in-training enough personal attention. But Aleshire acknowledges many seminaries are struggling with funding as church attendance declines - and that may create an opening for new models.

"There may be some niche programs and markets that might be able to work that out, as long as there aren’t too many competitors," he says.

South University is taking its theology program into several new markets. It launches online next month, and at campuses in five more cities in October.

Who Are The Protesters Getting Arrested In Ferguson?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-21 13:41

The violence at night in Ferguson, Mo., has calmed down for now. However, more than 160 people have been arrested since the protests began. Police records offer a sense of who they are.

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SoundCloud to start including ads in content streams

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-21 13:33

SoundCloud, which has been dubbed “the YouTube for audio,” is going to start putting ads into its content stream. The question is how will the 175 million users who are used to an ad-free service respond?   

“I don’t think people expect things to be ad free forever,” digital music consultant Karen Allen said, because most consumers understand that tech companies have costs and need to make money.

“Either artists have to pay to upload their music, or fans have to pay to listen, or there has to be advertising,” Allen said.

Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, said SoundCloud is putting a clever marketing spin on its advertising announcement.

SoundCloud has implied “that the money that they’re getting from advertising is for altruistic reasons.”

He said SoundCloud didn't punch the “we need to pay our bills” angle. Instead, SoundCloud said the “majority” of the advertising money will go to the musician. That logic is working on James Peck, a musician who goes by the name of Memorecks on SoundCloud.  

“I think it’s going to be a good thing for the content creators,” Peck said.

But he added, SoundCloud must be  respectful of the indie music community that helped build up the site. The fear is that with money to be made, big music labels will put more music on SoundCloud.  

“So when labels start to come, what starts to happen is SoundCloud wants to make more money,” he said. It “offers them advertising opportunities like being pushed to the top of the page.”

As Peck said, the big labels often bring in a different crowd.

“You know you’ll have more of your 13-year-old female demographic coming in there,” he said.

Peck doesn’t hold anything against 13-year-old girls but he said, they could sorta kill the indie vibe.

Diplomats can't take the ice bucket challenge

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-21 13:33

Lawyers are why we can't have anything nice.

You know the ALS ice bucket challenge, right? If not, you should probably click here.

Anyway, what started out as an amazing viral awareness and fundraising campaign, is now getting lawyered up.

The Associated Press got its hands on a State Department cable that forbids Ambassadors and other high ranking foreign service officers from taking the challenge because federal ethics rules bar officials from using public office for private matter how worthy the cause.

.@StateDept bars US diplomats from taking ALS ice bucket challenge"
(Photo of cable below)

— Matt Lee (@APDiploWriter) August 21, 2014


Could $1 store + $1 store = monopoly?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-21 13:33

Citing antitrust concerns, Family Dollar stores has rebuffed an offer of $9 billion from its competitor Dollar General.

But let’s review the issue at hand here: monopolies. Monopolies are bad (unless you're the owner) because they mean no competition, and the potential for just one company to control prices. But Rob Campagnino, head of consumer research for SSR, says the proposed merger doesn't represent any substantial antitrust concerns.

“They’re dollar stores – inherently they aren’t looking to raise prices," he says. "As a matter of fact, the pricing tends to be a race to the bottom."

Campagnino says the antitrust concerns that get raised generally revolve around large businesses that increase prices. "That's just not how these companies do business," he says. 

But for some consumers, the fear of a monopoly can depend on where they live.

"In very dense environments, where there’s a store every couple of blocks, you don’t worry as much because there are so many competitive choices,” says Scott Hemphill, a professor of antitrust law and intellectual property at Columbia Law School. But things can change as geography does.

"If you are a customer in a part of the country that’s close to Dollar General and close to Family Dollar, but not close to a Wal-Mart, then there’s a real concern that the firms that they merged would be able to raise their prices," he says. 

George Hay, a professor of law and economics at Cornell who held the position of chief of economic policy for the antitrust division of the Justice Department, says he thinks it’s highly unlikely there will be an antitrust issue with a dollar store. But, he says, that doesn’t mean companies shouldn’t be careful. You only have to take the case of the merger of United and Continental airlines. 

“The government passed on the merger and a group of lawyers brought a case on behalf of consumers who would be adversely affected," he says. "At the end of the day that challenge did not succeed, but it did cause problems.” Problems in the form of delays and legal expenses.

But Hay says Family Dollar Stores' antitrust concerns are probably just an excuse to let it go with a different offer. SSR's Rob Campagnino agrees. It's likely, he says, that the president of Family Dollar has planned to stay on in some capacity, but he wouldn't be guaranteed a spot based on Dollar General's offer.

"People," he says, "tend to like to keep their jobs."

School transportation cuts still affect families

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-21 13:33

The School District of Philadelphia is facing a budget shortfall of more than $80 million. Among the cost-saving measures being voted on: the District wants to stop giving free bus passes to high-school students who live within two miles of school.

Previously, students who lived more than 1.5 miles from school got free bus or train passes. That difference of half a mile could impact thousands of students, according to the District.

Paying for your kid’s trip to school can definitely add up. Before Thursday’s vote in Philly, public school mom Helen Gym, an advocate, worried about more parents paying bus fare for their kids.

“It’s $2.25 each way,” says the co-founder of Parents United for Public Education. Multiply that by two trips a day over a school year and she says a family, “would have to pay $810 dollars a year, per child.”

That’s the full cash price Gym is quoting, but even reduced token fares add up to hundreds of dollars out of parents’ pockets.

Still, the idea of state and district cuts to transportation support is hardly new. In fact, Michael Griffith with the Education Commission of the States says most transportation cuts came from the recession, and have waned.

“But they’re not going back to the levels before the recession,” he says. Griffith says states and districts want to put money back into other areas first, like teachers.

“So they’re looking to replenish those areas that were cut that directly impact student learning,” he says, “and there really isn’t the money available in most districts to go back and to put it into programs and areas like transportation.”

Marguerite Roza with Georgetown University says it’s all about trade-offs. She studies public education resource spending and says higher transportation spending in and of itself isn’t necessarily the goal.

“If you’re not spending the money on transportation, then you get to spend it on something else,” she says. “So is the higher transportation spending bringing greater student outcomes or is it bringing lower student outcomes ‘cause that means there’s less spending on math.”

Though, when subsidized school transportation goes away, families may have to do more math to get through it.

Contagious Kisses? We Answer Your Questions About Ebola Recovery

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-21 13:25

Two Americans were released Thursday from an Atlanta hospital after treatment for Ebola. The news has generated a flurry of questions about what happens after you survive Ebola. So we asked the CDC.

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Islamic State 'Beyond Anything We've Seen,' Hagel Says

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-21 12:44

The secretary of defense says the extremists are well-funded and organized and that he expects them to "regroup and stage an offensive" despite U.S. airstrikes.

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Can Quinoa Take Root On The 'Roof Of The World'?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-21 12:29

Quinoa, once a homebody crop, crossed the Atlantic for the first time this century. Now the Food and Agriculture Organization has a hunch it can thrive in Central and Southwest Asia.

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California's wells are going dry now, too

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-21 12:27

Water supplies are dwindling in California as the state’s historic drought drags on this summer. So, farmers in the state’s multi-billion dollar agricultural industry are looking for water below ground instead. Groundwater is being pumped at record rates, and some of it is being sold for record prices.

In a good year, California’s farmers get most of their water from the state’s vast network of rivers and reservoirs. But in a drought, groundwater makes up 60 percent of the state’s supply. It’s a lot like an underground reservoir – and it’s drying up in many places. 

“When the water is gone, all the farming is gone,” says Billy Grissom, a Central Valley farmer and rancher who lined up to speak about groundwater at a recent Merced County public meeting. 

Many farmers in the region are relying on groundwater from wells on their land this year. When that happens, the groundwater levels drop, much like having too many straws in the same glass. So Grissom has had to deepen his wells.

“I had to add 40 feet,” he says. “I have the bill right here from Shannon Pump.”

Grissom is one of the lucky ones. It’s tough to get an appointment with companies that drill water wells because they’re booked up for months.

“A lot of people’s wells are going dry,” says Merced County supervisor Deidre Kelsey. “We are over-drafting the groundwater, and it is agriculture.”

Groundwater pumping doesn’t have to be publicly reported in California. There’s virtually no regulation of it, unlike in other western states. So, often, farmers don’t know how much their neighbors are taking until the water starts drying up.

At this public meeting, county supervisors are hearing about a case that’s on the record because the groundwater is being sold.

“This is common practice,” says Steve Sloan, one of two ranchers looking to sell up to 4 billion gallons of groundwater. Under California law, he owns the groundwater under his property. On today’s water market, it could make him millions.

“Water exchanges, water transfers have been done for over 30 years,” he says. “This is how we survive collectively as an ag industry in California.”

The water will be sent 50 miles away to a water district on the other side of the Central Valley. Farmers there are in even worse shape – they are looking at ripping out almond orchards, says local water manager Anthea Hansen.

“We’re in crisis mode,” says Hansen. “I have trees I need to keep alive. We don’t need large quantities of water to do that. “

Hansen is trying hard to make her case at this public meeting, but many farmers in the region don’t want to see water flowing elsewhere.

“What’s going to happen when you take this much water out of an aquifer?” asks Mike Gallo, a neighbor of Sloan’s. “We’re on the same aquifer. I don’t know what it’s going to do. Nobody knows what it’s going to do.”

The federal referee in the sale is the Bureau of Reclamation and the agency has approved it. Under current law, there’s little that local county officials can do.

In the big picture, water sales can help even out the economic impacts of the drought, according to experts.

“One of the ways to deal with shortages is to let water start moving, let the markets start moving water and that actually increases your economic efficiency,” says Jeff Mount, a geologist and senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.

But there are caveats. Groundwater is being dramatically over pumped in many parts of the Central Valley.

“You also have to do it in ways that don’t harm other parties,” says Mount. “And if you start drying up your neighbors' wells to sell water to somebody else, then you are causing harm.”

Some counties have taken matters into their own hands and effectively banned the sale of groundwater outside county lines.

California lawmakers are looking at regulating groundwater for the first time. Two bills are being considered in this legislative session and would have to pass by the end of August.

Vision Problems Increase The Risk Of Early Death In Older People

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-21 12:26

Older people whose visual acuity has slipped by just one letter on the eye chart are more likely to die sooner, researchers say. New glasses may be all it takes to maintain independence.

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European Fighters Take On More Prominent Roles In The Islamic State

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-21 12:12

The hunt is on to identify the man in the James Foley execution video who speaks with a British accent. An estimated 2,000 Europeans have left home to join the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

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