IT'S WORTH TAKING A LOOK: APME HAS A NEW WEB SITE
The Associated Press Managing Editors has launched apme.com on a new platform, hosted by yourmembership.com. It offers greater interactivity, membership management and an easy-to-use content management system.
New features include embedded video training libraries, wiki-type articles for editors to add to the discussion, an online payment
processor and user profiles. There are easy links to APME's twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages. The calendar function makes it simple to see what training opportunities are ahead and to check on upcoming award and conference deadlines.
We welcome your thoughts and suggestions on the new site at http://tinyurl.com/ apmefeedback.
NEWSU/APME WEBINAR: ETHICS AND CREDIBILITY OF BREAKING NEWS ONLINE
The next APME Online Credibility Webinar at Poynter's NewsU will be April 15
Ethics and Credibility of Breaking News Online
With Mitch Pugh, editor, Sioux City Journal in Iowa
Don't just be the first to break local news digitally. Ensure that your readers get credible stories. Learn best practices in managing tough decisions when publishing via your Web site, Facebook page, Twitter account or when pushing it out to mobile devices. Confront issues of credibility and ethics. Know the importance of aligning your newsroom's standards with the expectations of your readers. And understand how digital delivery affects traditional news standards and values, and how to manage your newsroom moving forward.
Editor of the Sioux City Journal, Mitch Pugh, will discuss the results of the APME Online Credibility Project and the Sioux City Journal: Breaking News Without Breaking Trust. He'll explain why and how the Sioux City Journal developed an ethics policy devoted to breaking news and guide you to create your own.
This Webinar is $27.95, but only $9.95 for APME members Watch for a discount code in an upcoming APME e-mail.
Read a Q&A with Pugh | Register
UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY CONFERENCE ON WAR, JOURNALISM AND HISTORY
The University of Kentucky's School of Journalism and Telecommunications, in cooperation with the University of Edinburgh's Center for the Two World Wars, will host a conference on War, Journalism and History in Lexington, Ky., April 8-11. The theme of the conference is "Covering conflicts in the modern world.”
Top journalists, public policy experts, historians and military officials will discuss:
- The role of media in foreign policy
- Military and media relations
- Media ethics in conflict reporting
- U.S. war reporting from an international perspective
- Representations of War in film
- An exhibition of pictures and dispatches from AP foreign correspondents
AP President Tom Curley will be the keynote speaker at the annual Creason lecture on April 8.
Conference participants will include Ryan Crocker, former ambassador and special Middle East envoy; Robert Fisk, foreign correspondent and columnist for the London Independent; Abderrahim Foukar, Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera; Lebanese journalist Jihad El-Zein of An Nahar; film star Steve Zahn; Dale Dye, film producer and military consultant; Molly Bingham and Steve Connors, journalists and documentary makers; Simon Wilson, Washington bureau chief of the BBC; John Walcott, Washington bureau chief of McClatchy newspapers; Col. Mike Meese, head of the History Department at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point; historians Dr. George Herring of the University of Kentucky and Dr. Clarence Wyatt of Centre College; Yvonne McEwen of the University of Edinburgh's Center for the Two World Wars; and Dr. Tom Lindlof of the School of Journalism and Telecommunications, University of Kentucky.
WE WANT YOUR "GREAT IDEAS"
We are accepting submissions for APME's 2010 "Great Ideas” book. What's a great idea?
It can be a new concept for print or online, or a major improvement to something we do every day. This is a chance for your newspaper to show off great work and to help fellow editors by providing ideas that might work in their markets. APME is again focusing on watchdog stories -- big and small -- because of the difference they can make in the community.
Our "Great Ideas” Web site allows you to quickly submit entries (150-word limit) and upload a picture (.jpg, .pdf) that accompanies the Great Idea. When the Great Ideas page opens, click on the "Submit Your Great Idea!” link and input the entry. The process is simple, quick and painless.
If you have questions, contact Kurt Franck, executive editor of The (Toledo) Blade or Terry Orme, managing editor news/business at The Salt Lake Tribune.
Kurt: 419-724-6163, email@example.com
Terry: 801-257-8727, firstname.lastname@example.org
APME UPDATE NEEDS YOUR HELP
Please send links to your best impact reporting -- whether of the watchdog variety or a look at stimulus spending -- or to any other subject you would like to share with other editors. Please e-mail the link to email@example.com
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK
The Associated Press reports that as banks gambled on the risky mortgages that helped create the worst financial crisis in generations, the U.S. government handed out millions of dollars in bonuses to regulators at agencies that missed or ignored warning signs that the system was on the verge of a meltdown. The bonuses, detailed in payroll data released to the AP, are the latest evidence of the government's false sense of security during the go-go days of the financial boom. Just as bank executives got bonuses despite taking on dangerous amounts of risk, regulators got taxpayer-funded bonuses for doing "superior" work monitoring the banks. The bonuses, released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, were part of a reward program little known outside the government.
The Associated Press reports that a convicted embezzler who snagged a $9.1 million business tax credit from the state of Michigan was arrested on a parole violation, a day after he appeared on stage with Gov. Jennifer Granholm as she announced the credits. RASCO CEO Richard A. Short, 57, was arrested by Department of Corrections officers and state police, Corrections Department spokesman Russ Marlan said. Authorities say they arrested Short after realizing he may have violated his parole by not informing the Corrections Department he had a job. Short owes $96,000 in restitution from fraud convictions, money he should be paying if he's working, Marlan said. Short shared the stage with Granholm as she introduced the leaders of companies awarded $55 million in tax credits. She said RASCO -- short for Renewable and Sustainable Companies LLC -- planned to invest $18.4 million to establish a new headquarters in Flint.
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/ 20100317/ap_on_bi_ge/us_tax_ credit_embezzler
The Associated Press reports that California lawmakers charged taxpayers for airfare totaling $2 million over a recent 2½-year period, but the legislature, citing security concerns, won't disclose the destinations or produce proof that all the trips were for official state business. Most of the cost, about $1.5 million, was for travel to and from Sacramento during the legislature's January-through-September regular sessions, according to information provided to the AP as part of a public records request. Lawmakers also billed the state nearly $400,000 for other flights within California and $55,000 for travel out of state. The AP requested lawmakers' air travel itineraries and the associated cost to taxpayers as part of an ongoing examination of legislative spending and disclosure requirements. The legislature said it would not provide original documentation of lawmakers' air travel, meaning there is no way to independently determine where they flew or for what purpose. When pressed for records that would give lawmakers' destinations and prove that all flights were for business related to state government, the legislature refused to provide them.
http://www.nctimes.com/news/ national/article_84e138bf- 078a-55c8-bcec-acd332d8ba9b. html
TheTampa Tribune reports that one woman fell from a galloping horse while texting. Another woman's bangs caught fire as she peered into a toaster. More than 818 emergency room trips in the past four years involved "chicken" - dead and alive. Most ER visits are the result of heart attacks, car wrecks and the like. But another wave of patients stumbles into ERs because of careless accidents or failing products. The newspaper reviewed records of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which assembles data from about 100 U.S. hospitals to track trends. The several-million record database of this bloody tally breaks down into a few categories: Cell phones, suspicious circumstances, dramatic flair, simply being a guy and Americans' compulsion to demonstrate products, athletic feats or dance moves.
The Tennessean reports Karen Saltsman thought she had found a solution to high health insurance premiums in a fax advertising affordable health plans from Springfield-based American Trade Association. It promised low-cost health insurance with no limits on pre-existing conditions, said Saltsman, 51, a breast cancer survivor who lives in Mt. Juliet, Tenn. Saltsman spent hundreds of dollars on monthly premiums, and has yet to see even one of her medical bills paid. The list of upset customers is growing daily as more find that the Robertson County nonprofit company's health plans don't cover what they say was promised. At least 10 states, including Tennessee, have issued emergency cease-and-desist orders, but regulators say the company continues to sell phony policies through telemarketers and fax blasts and on its own Web site, http://www.myatabenefits.com/. A Tennessean investigation found that the two main players behind the health plans, Bart Posey and Obed Wayne Kirkpatrick, have partnered before in a similar health program that drew complaints and the attention of regulators in North Carolina.
http://www.citizen-times.com/ article/DN/20100321/NEWS01/ 3210365/0/NEWS06/Robertson- County-firm-left-patients-in- lurch
The Ventura County Star reports sobriety checkpoints in California are increasingly turning into profitable operations for local police departments that are far more likely to seize cars from unlicensed motorists than catch drunken drivers. It published the results of an investigation by the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley with California Watch which found that impounds at checkpoints in 2009 generated an estimated $40 million in towing fees and police fines -- revenue that cities divide with towing firms. Additionally, police officers received about $30 million in overtime pay for the DUI crackdowns, funded by the California Office of Traffic Safety.
In dozens of interviews over the past three months, law enforcement officials and tow truck operators say that vehicles are predominantly taken from minority motorists -- often illegal immigrants. In the course of its examination, the Investigative Reporting Program reviewed hundreds of pages of city financial records and police reports, and analyzed data documenting the results from every checkpoint that received state funding during the past two years.
http://californiawatch.org/ public-safety/car-seizures- dui-checkpoints-prove- profitable-cities-raise-legal- questions
TheSanta Fe New Mexican reports that to balance the budget, the New Mexico legislature opted to raise taxes on food and cigarettes. But lawmakers barely gave a thought to another idea that was being discussed before the session -- increasing the tax on liquor, wine and beer. Attorney General Gary King, who favored such a tax, recently told a television reporter that the alcohol lobby is too powerful. ‘‘My legislative crew was in a sort of pitched battle with those lobbyists that represent the liquor industry, and I think they have been extremely effective in the Legislature,” he told KOB-TV. In an interview, Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, who sponsored one of the bills that died early during the regular session of the Legislature, told a reporter that the liquor lobby was only part of the reason. Egolf blamed the failure of his bill partly on an "unholy alliance” of the liquor interests plus the hospitality industry and grocery and convenience stores, all of whom opposed the bill.
http://www.santafenewmexican. com/Local%20News/Liquor-lobby- helps-put-cork-in-booze-tax
TheSan Diego Union-Tribune reports that for at least 11 years, the percentage of felony ex-convicts sent back to California prisons for parole violations has dipped. Last year, 15 percent of 106,355 parolees were put back behind bars, a new low. That's down steadily from 25 percent in 1998, according to a data analysis by The San Diego Union-Tribune. It may be that ex-cons are behaving better. But critics of the overburdened state corrections agency say the phenomenon is a systematic effort by parole officials to move their charges through the system, to keep from making crowded prisons worse.
http://www.signonsandiego.com/ news/2010/mar/21/parole- agents-backing-off-critics- claim/
TheNews Tribune of Tacoma, Wash., reports the state's current and former House speakers used political muscle and skilled lobbying to push $4 million of state money to a Tacoma housing nonprofit's building project three years ago, despite concerns raised by two hometown senators, interviews and records show. Then, after House Speaker Frank Chopp and former-speaker-turned-lobbyist Brian Ebersole helped win the large appropriation for the Martin Luther King Housing Development Association, Tacoma Rep. Dennis Flannigan successfully advocated looser restrictions on how the nonprofit could spend the state's money. Flannigan's rare budget proviso, an amendment supported by House leadership that emerged late in the 2008 session, increased the risk on the public's investment, some political insiders now say. A state review late last year found the MLK nonprofit misspent nearly $2 million of the state grant meant to help it build a lavish business and housing center on Tacoma's Hilltop. Among other things, the review found the nonprofit reimbursed itself $2.3 million for land it bought for $1.1 million, then spent the profit on other unauthorized business.
http://www.thenewstribune.com/ 2010/03/21/1117921/mlk-grant- money-long-gone.html# ixzz0ivon9zBD
TheIdaho Statesman reports that the companion company of XpressFlex, a Boise firm that administered flexible spending accounts before abruptly shutting its doors March 1, has been sued by at least 17 businesses and one government agency in the past year alleging the company didn't pay clients' payroll taxes. What's more, XpressFlex owner Wayne Davis acknowledges borrowing money from XpressFlex to pay for his other company's legal battles, according to court records.
That company, PayrollAmerica, handled payroll taxes for clients. PayrollAmerica is accused in the lawsuits of not paying those taxes, according to court records reviewed by the Idaho Statesman. The nonpayments caused some clients to be slapped with government financial penalties, according to legal records. Davis started both companies when he lived in Boise, but moved to Raleigh, N.C., in 2006, where he planned to expand the businesses. He told the Idaho Statesman March 2 that he sold PayrollAmerica in February 2009. But in legal documents filed as late as October, he describes himself as the president and owner of the company.
http://www.idahostatesman.com/ 2010/03/21/1125315/owner-of- boise-firm-xpressflex.html
The St. Petersburg Times, following a six-month investigation of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, reports it could find only one officer in the entire organization, and the nonprofit declined to reveal where its millions of dollars of income went. On its Web site and in tax papers filed with the IRS, the association represents itself as having a rich heritage of charitable giving that annually provides millions of dollars in assistance to veterans, their families and America's military troops at war. It says its all-volunteer staff and 85 officers run a national headquarters and state chapters across America. Since 2002, when the group told the IRS that a handful of volunteers spent $6,703 for groceries and medical care for veterans, the association said it has grown to more than 66,000 members, with 41 state chapters and more than $22.4 million in annual income. It says its five-member executive board and 12 key officers work out of the national headquarters on M Street in Washington. In the eight years since the IRS certified the group as a tax-exempt charity, there is little evidence that regulators ever questioned its governance, spending and stated accomplishments. But try to find the group -- its directors and its officers, its money and its records – they're all but invisible.
http://www.tampabay.com/news/ military/multimillion-dollar- nonprofit-charity-for-navy- veterans-steeped-in-secrecy/ 1081213
The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that after seven years of raising money, the Animal House Fund didn't reach its goal of building a new city pound, but the organizers did know how to throw a party. Tax records show the Animal House Fund -- which set out to build a state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly shelter that could be donated to the city -- spent nearly a half-million dollars. And despite a full calendar of trivia nights, cocktail functions and other soirees, not a single brick was laid for the new pound. Organizers acknowledge that most of the money raised went into overhead and administrative fees. Political missteps -- such as choosing a location that was later opposed by residents -- also caused long delays. Mayor Francis Slay, saying the city can no longer wait as animals suffer, earlier this month ordered the current pound closed. He has instructed the city to seek outside help for shelter services, in effect ending Animal House's effort to build a new pound. Volunteers for the push are now wondering why a cause that had broad community support -- and tugged firmly on the heartstrings of animal lovers -- fell short.
http://www.stltoday.com/ stltoday/news/stories.nsf/ politics/story/ A299588661F592F4862576EC000FF7 E9?OpenDocument
The San Antonio Express reports when Nasser Hempel walked into an Army recruiting office in October 2006, he wasn't the typical applicant. At 33, he was four years removed from having spent 11 years in Texas maximum-security prisons for a 1991 robbery. Now an Army Reserve corporal serving in Baghdad under the service's moral conduct waiver program, Hempel, 36, lives a life transformed. But the Army, too, has undergone a radical makeover since the Iraq invasion seven years ago. Waivers are granted for everything from medical woes and low scores on the Pentagon's aptitude test to recruits failing drug and alcohol tests. They're also given for people with misdemeanor and felony records. University of Maryland military sociologist David Segal said waivers are nothing new, but have been used with greater frequency by an Army strained by the Iraq war. The Army stopped issuing felony waivers after the start of the fiscal year in October 2008 and severely curtailed conduct waivers of other kinds as the recession made it easier to recruit troops.
http://www.mysanantonio.com/ military/From_prison_stripes_ to_sergeants_stripes.html
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports the Rochester Housing Authority has done business with and loaned hundreds of thousands of dollars to a nonprofit development firm run by top authority executives, who received pay from the firm in addition to their authority salaries, documents and interviews show. The dual salaries, revealed to current and former authority commissioners by the Democrat and Chronicle, have raised questions among commissioners about a potential conflict of interest and possible violations of housing laws and authority policy, which restrict authority employees from having a financial stake in authority contracts. Federal tax records show three authority executives -- Executive Director Anthony DiBiase, Development Director Scott Shaw and Operations Director Sharlene LeRoy -- collectively received $123,175 in pay from the nonprofit, North Star Housing and Development Corp., in 2007 and 2008, the years for which records were available. In 2008, DiBiase was paid $33,750 by North Star in addition to his $148,563 authority salary, according to tax records and public payroll data. That year, the authority paid Shaw $97,365 and LeRoy $97,841, while they earned $25,253 and $11,539 from North Star, respectively. The records also show that North Star paid Shaw's wife $11,500 for accounting services in 2007.
http://www. democratandchronicle.com/apps/ pbcs.dll/article?AID= 20103210359
The Orlando Sentinel reports tougher U.S. air-pollution rules, scheduled to take effect this summer, could put hundreds of millions of tax dollars at risk while ushering in lower speed limits, carpool lanes and tailpipe tests in areas with even marginally dirty air -- such as Central Florida. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pushing to adopt more-stringent standards for ozone, a major component of smog and a health hazard, especially for children, the elderly and people with breathing ailments. The Bush administration refused two years ago to adopt ozone standards recommended by an EPA panel of experts known as the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. But now, under President Barack Obama, the agency intends to set an ozone limit in the air we breathe of 60 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion. The current limit is 75 parts per billion, and records indicate that Central Florida typically checks in at 66 to 71 parts per billion.
http://www.orlandosentinel. com/news/environment/os-ozone- tougher-rules-florida,0, 4277659.story
TheVirginian-Pilot reports that a methodical -- but effective -- culture of infection prevention is spreading among hospitals in Hampton Roads and nationwide driven by patient safety concerns, money, state reporting laws and a conviction that a near-perfect record is attainable. In the early 2000s, researchers showed that by using a checklist, health care professionals could dramatically reduce costly and potentially deadly infections that patients could acquire in a hospital. That conclusion spurred changes on at least two fronts. Starting in 2008, Medicare stopped paying treatment costs for certain hospital-acquired conditions and started requiring that hospitals foot the bills. Virginia's Medicaid program followed suit in January, and private insurance companies are moving in the same direction. Additionally, 30 states, including Virginia, instituted laws requiring hospitals to report statistics about patient infections originating in their facilities. The Virginia Department of Health began posting numbers on its Web site last year and plans to add more.
http://hamptonroads.com/2010/ 03/hospitals-taking-more- steps-prevent-infections
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, in an ongoing series about ways money and conflicts of interest affect medicine and patient care, how Paula Oertel's brain tumor was kept at bay for nearly a decade by a drug that was not approved to treat her condition. Then Oertel did something she never imagined would jeopardize her good health. She moved. Less than 30 miles -- from one county in Wisconsin to another. The move triggered a review of her health insurance from Medicare, which eventually led to a loss of coverage, including the drug. And the tumor returned within four months. What happened to Oertel stunned her doctor, Mark Malkin. Nothing he learned in medical school prepared him for what now is too often a sad and frustrating part of his job as a cancer specialist: fighting Medicare and private insurance companies over life-or-death decisions.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reports a scathing audit of Kentucky's guardianship program in 2008 by State Auditor Crit Luallen found that understaffing in the program put wards of the state at risk.
Today, there are 2,835 active wards of the state with just 38 guardians to oversee all their personal and financial needs. That's roughly one guardian for every 75 wards. That ratio is "preposterous,” said University of Kentucky professor Pamela Teaster, one of the nation's leading researchers on public guardianship. An appropriate ratio would be 20-1, as it is in Virginia, Teaster said. At the very least, Kentucky should cap the number of wards a guardian oversees, as Florida does, at a 40-1 ratio, she said. "The reason this is such a critical issue is that these are often people without a voice,” Luallen said recently.
http://www.kentucky.com/2010/ 03/21/1191303/luallen-not- enough-state-guardians.html
The Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale checked the average prices for hospital treatment of four common conditions and found some institutions in south Florida charge as much as double, or more, as others. In general, corporate-owned hospitals charge much more than nonprofits or public facilities. Need your appendix out? Go to JFK Medical Center in Atlantis and the bill is $65,500, on average. But at West Boca Medical Center, it's $27,500. Got pneumonia? Recuperate at Florida Medical Center in Lauderdale Lakes and the bill is $41,200. But at Cleveland Clinic in Weston, it's $15,325. Such huge price differences -- drawn from estimated average charges that hospitals must report to the state each year -- are the reality in health care. It's a business in which almost no procedure has a set price, and patients rarely are charged the same amount for the same thing.
http://www.sun-sentinel.com/ business/fl-hospital-prices- 20100318,0,6482392.story
The Austin American-Statesman reports that, according to Texas Ethics Commission records, Triton Financial CEO Kurt Barton made his largest-ever political contribution in 2008: a $33,000 donation to Gov. Rick Perry. Barely three weeks later, Perry stood next to Barton and former professional football player Ty Detmer, at the time a Triton executive, and announced Triton would be the new title sponsors of the Champions Tour's Austin golf tournament, which, he noted, was a boon for the local economy and sports fans. The governor praised Barton, who now faces a federal lawsuit accusing him and his company of securities fraud, as "a leader (and) a visionary.” The 18-month-old donation to the governor and several other political and charitable contributions Barton and Triton made in recent years -- including $20,000 to a state appellate judge and $250,000 to the University of Texas to qualify for a luxury box at football games -- could figure into the legal proceedings now surrounding Triton. That's because donations made by people found to have engaged in certain financial schemes -- such as Barton has been accused of -- can legally be considered "fraudulent conveyances” of money that should be returned to investors. Courts have determined that such funds were never rightfully theirs to give away.
http://www.statesman.com/news/ statesman_focus/perry-ut- received-large-donations-from- triton-ceo-409793.html
The Akron Beacon Journal reports the fevered demand for H1N1 flu shots has fizzled out, sticking some agencies in Ohio with thousands of unused doses of vaccine. Just a few months ago, people were waiting in line for hours to get protection from the much-feared new strain of influenza, also known as swine flu. Today, the Summit County Health District has more than 9,800 doses of H1N1 flu vaccine sitting in a refrigerator, available free to anyone who wants one.
AP'S BEAT OF THE WEEK WINNERS
Last month's capture in Pakistan of the No. 2 commander of the Taliban's Afghan insurgency had been hailed as a breakthrough. Instead, a chance conversation and some deft source work by veteran reporters Kathy Gannon and Deb Riechmann uncovered a back-story suggesting it might have been a setback to a possible political settlement of the Afghanistan war.
There had long been rumors of negotiations with the Taliban, but nothing was ever confirmed. Then, at a reception in New York, AP Senior Managing Editor John Daniszewski struck up a conversation with a Pakistani journalist who said there was widespread suspicion that the arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar may have been part of Pakistan's desire to get a voice in secret peace talks with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Daniszewski spoke to Afghan-Pakistan News Director Bob Reid, who turned to Gannon and Riechmann. Gannon is based in Islamabad but was on temporary assignment in Kabul, where she was the longtime AP bureau chief. She has reported from the region for more than two decades and is well connected with the major political players. Riechmann is a former White House reporter who transferred to Kabul last fall and has concentrated since on developing military, diplomatic and intelligence sources.
A high-level presidential aide confided to Gannon that not only had secret talks been held with the Taliban leader, but that Karzai had been furious at the arrest. She confirmed the talks with other sources, including the security adviser to the governor of Afghanistan's Helmand province, and yet another source said he had been told by Karzai himself that he was angry.
Riechmann filled out the picture of how the arrest, with U.S. backing, reveals a debate within the Obama administration over how seriously Washington wants peace talks with representatives of the movement that gave al-Qaida its base in Afghanistan prior to the 9/11 attacks. It comes at a time when Karzai has been working hard toward a peace "jirga,” or council, for his country in its ninth year of war.
The story appeared on thousands of Web sites, including the Miami Herald and CBS News. Reuters published a denial of the report, but the ex-UN chief in Afghanistan confirmed the contacts three days later and said the arrest had stymied the peace process. A number of other publications then followed the AP's reporting trail.
SUNSHINE WEEK: Q&A with the open records ombudsman
By SHARON THEIMER
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- As part of Sunshine Week, when news organizations highlight the importance of government openness, the nation's new Freedom of Information Act ombudsman, Miriam Nisbet, took part in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press.
Nisbet heads the new U.S. Office of Government Information Services, which was created to help people who encounter obstacles using FOIA. Here are some questions and answers from the interview Friday:
Q: Why is this important to the average citizen, someone who doesn't work for a newspaper?
A: "If people are going to know how their government is operating, what they are doing that affects them, what they are doing on behalf of the people, they have to be able to see the records that reflect that. The documents that are being created, the data that are being produced. Particularly, you look at huge government programs and all the data that come out of that. Those data belong to the people, and they should have a right to see them and then do with them what they want.”
Q: Why is it even after the president issued a directive to presume that information is public, that they're still dragging their feet, the message is not getting to the agencies?
A: "You have to have people at the very top, people in leadership positions who not only are believing it and saying it and doing it but who are themselves accountable and who are willing to be accountable if it doesn't work. There's really got to be a culture change and that's just something that doesn't happen overnight.”
Q: What can the public do to try to take back this information, change this culture, if anything?
A: "First of all, I'm not going to say, ‘Everybody out there start using the Freedom of Information Act,' because really and truly that is, it's the least efficient way for people to get information. The much better way is to demand and to also appreciate efforts to get the information out there. ... If people can really interact with government personnel just like they have no hesitation, it seems, to going to their members of Congress. Why? Because they think that when they go to their member of Congress they are going to get an answer. Somebody's going to help them get the answer they want, the information they want, the service they want. They need to be doing the same thing with any agency that affects what they do.”
Q: What are your top tips for successfully pursuing a FOIA request?
A: "The most important thing you can do is actually have a conversation with somebody who's handling the request. ... That is sometimes the biggest obstacle, is just there's a lack of understanding from the agency side about what the requester wants and the requester can't know what records the government has.”
Q: At what point should people ask your office for help?
A: "Wherever we can help, we will try and make it happen.”
Q: What has been the typical problem in the cases you see?
A: "One of the most common problems has been -- no surprise there -- delays in responding to the request. And that could be a matter of weeks, or months or years in a requester getting a response from the agency.”
Q: When you investigate, what is the cause of the delay?
A: "FOIA professionals are for the most part very hard-working ... A big problem is when they go to other people in their agency to look for records, other people that they deal with do not necessarily appreciate that the FOIA people are working under time constraints. They aren't necessarily well-versed in why FOIA is important.”
Q: How big of a factor is the lack of technology or knowledge of the use of technology in slow responses? It seems incredible sometimes how much government still keeps on paper.
A: "It's a big problem, and again it's resources, it's always resources. ... You know, we're still in a world in the federal government where the official record of e-mail is paper. If it's a record, you print it out and put it in the file that it goes with.”
Q: Is money needed to fix some of these problems?
A: "The answer is yes, money will definitely make a difference, and I think particularly as agencies are focusing on and being directed to focus on FOIAas a big piece of the open government plans, we will perhaps see some greater attention to that.”
Q: Would you like to see an economic stimulus for FOIA so that everyone gets their information faster?
A: "Sure. Resources is the first thing that everybody mentions. It's the resources and it's the culture change. The culture change, definitely that's beginning, but it's certainly going to take time.”
The Federal Reserve must reveal documents identifying financial companies that received Fed loans to survive the financial crisis, a federal appeals court ruled. A panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said in two separate opinions that such information isn't automatically exempt from requests under the Freedom of Information Act. News Corp.'s FoxNews Network LLC and Bloomberg L.P. sued separately for details about loans that commercial banks and Wall Street firms received and the collateral they put up. Other news agencies including The Associated Press filed briefs with the appellate court in their support. The Fed argued that if it identified banks that drew emergency loans, it could cause a run on those institutions, undermine the loan programs and potentially hurt the economy, and lower-court judges were split on the issue. The Federal Reserve said it's studying the ruling.
John Pain, an editor for The Associated Press in Florida who has also served as acting assistant chief of bureau, has been named chief of bureau for the news cooperative's Mid-Atlantic region. The appointment was announced by Kate Lee Butler, vice president for U.S. Newspaper Markets. Pain will be based in Washington, D.C., where he will oversee AP news and business operations for Maryland and Delaware. His responsibilities also will include oversight of business operations in Washington and general news coverage of the city and its suburbs, including northern Virginia. He succeeds David Wilkison, who was promoted in May to director of major accounts for the AP's U.S. newspaper markets. Pain, 35, joined the AP in Miami in 2002 and has worked there as acting assistant bureau chief, day supervisor and business writer. He helped lead coverage and race calling of the 2008 election in Florida, the devastating 2004-2005 hurricane seasons and the Terri Schiavo end-of-life dispute.
Denis Paquin, who has been national sports photo editor for The Associated Press since 2007 and worked in a variety of news photo assignments, has been appointed deputy director of photography for the news cooperative. The appointment was announced by Santiago Lyon, AP director of photography. Paquin most recently oversaw the AP's photo planning and coverage of the Vancouver Olympics. He has been involved in coverage of major events including the Gulf War, World Cup soccer championships, U.S. presidential conventions and inaugurations, civil strife around the globe, world summits, and many other national and international news and sporting events. In his new role, as the No. 2 manager in for AP Photos, he will focus on operational issues in the United States and around the world, working with Lyon and the photo staff across formats. Paquin, a native of Quebec who grew up in Maine and Vermont, is a graduate of Carleton University in Ottawa. He joined the AP in 1991 after working as a photographer for UPI and Reuters since 1980. After serving the senior photo editor for Asia, he left the AP in 1998 to run the photo department of the National Post newspaper in Canada. He returned to the AP in 2004, and oversaw AP coverage in Illinois before becoming national sports photo editor.
The publisher of The Fayetteville Observer has been elected president of the North Carolina Press Association. Charles Broadwell will take over Aug. 1 from David Woronoff, publisher of The Pilot in Southern Pines. Woronoff will remain on the board of directors and executive committee. Tryon Daily Bulletin publisher Jeffrey A. Byrd was voted in as vice president at the press association's Winter Institute and Annual Meeting. Other people elected to the board Thursday were: Les High, editor of The News Reporter of Whiteville; Jon Jimison, editor of The Wilson Times; Diane Winnemuller, publisher of The Courier-Tribune of Asheboro; and Robyn Tomlin, executive editor of the Star-News of Wilmington.
Idaho Press-Tribune Publisher Rick Weaver is leaving the Nampa paper to serve as publisher of the Daily Inter Lake in his hometown of Kalispell, Mont. The Idaho Press-Tribune reported that the 57-year-old Weaver would start his position with the Montana paper in May. Weaver succeeds long-time Daily Inter Lake publisher Tom Kurdy, who announced last month that he would retire in May.
The Fort Morgan Times won't be able to see some records on a former city manager after losing an open records appeal. The Colorado Court of Appeals has affirmed the judgment against the newspaper blocking access to evaluation forms prepared by individual members of the city council for a performance review of a former city manager. The Fort Morgan Times sought the records in 2007, but the city said it had destroyed the evaluations and that they weren't public record. The city called them "work product,” which qualified them for an exemption.
The newspaper appealed a court judgment in the city's favor. A three-judge panel at the Court of Appeals unanimously upheld that decision.
The Journal Register Co. has named a senior publisher for its daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan. Kevin Haezebroeck, publisher of The Macomb Daily in Mount Clemens and The Daily Tribune in Royal Oak, will head JRC's "Michigan Cluster," which has four dailies, including The Oakland Press in Pontiac and The Morning Sun in Mount Pleasant.
The Journal Register announced the new position will take effect April 1.
Haezebroeck is a 25-year veteran of the newspaper business. He previously worked as publisher of The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio, and the Saratogian in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
The Journal Register, based in Yardley, Pa., has been making executive changes since emerging from bankruptcy last summer. It owns 19 daily newspapers.
Jeff Sudbrook was named senior publisher of The Morning Journal and its sister paper, The News-Herald in Willoughby. Sudbrook will be responsible for overseeing the newspapers' continued transformations to digital media outlets. The Morning Journal and The News-Herald are part of Journal Register Company. JRC is a leader in local news and information serving 992 communities in 10 states. The company's 324 multi-platform products reach an audience of nearly 14 million people each month. Sudbrook, 47, began his career in 1988 as an account executive at The News-Herald. He served as the newspapers retail advertising manager from 1994 to 1998 and as its advertising director from 1998 to 2004. He was promoted to publisher of The Morning Journal in 2004.
The editor of The Daily News in Longview has been named managing editor of The Wenatchee World. Cal FitzSimmons replaces Gary Jasinek, who announced his departure in December. Publisher Rufus Woods praised FitzSimmons' skills in community journalism. FitzSimmons grew up in Spokane and has spent his career working in the Pacific Northwest, starting in the sports department for the Spokesman-Review while attending college at Eastern Washington University. He also worked at the Missoulian in Missoula, Mont., the Tri-City Herald, the East Oregonian in Pendleton, Ore., and the Baker City Herald in Baker City, Ore.
BUSINESS OF NEWS
Affiliated Media Inc., the privately held publisher of the San Jose Mercury News and 53 other daily newspaper, said it has officially emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. This announcement from the holding company for MediaNews Group Inc. was an expected one. A bankruptcy judge already approved the company's reorganization plan on March 4. The official end of bankruptcy protection was expected by April 1. The company filed for Chapter 11 protection on Jan. 22. Under the plan, Affiliated will chop its debt down from $930 million to about $165 million in exchange for relinquishing ownership to dozens of lenders.
The lenders, led by Bank of America, will hold 89 percent of Affiliated's common stock. The remaining stake will belong to Affiliated's president, Joseph Lodovic IV, and its CEO, William Dean Singleton. Singleton, who is also chairman of The Associated Press, will retain control of Affiliated's board.
A federal appeals court says the owners of Philadelphia's two major daily newspapers can deny creditors the right to use the $300 million owed them to make a bid at an upcoming bankruptcy auction. The split 2-1 decision issued March 22 upholds a lower court decision in the hard-fought tussle for control of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News.
SIXTY-FIVE YEARS LATER, AP CORRECTS CAPTION TO REFLECT SOLDIERS' MEMORY
AP National Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- For 68 years, John E. Love has been haunted by the memory of carrying fallen comrades to a mass grave hollowed out of a Filipino rice field. Now, at last, a bit of history is being rewritten because of those memories.
After six months of research, The Associated Press is correcting the caption on one of the most famous photos in its library, 65 years after the image first moved on the newswire. The image shows defeated Allied soldiers after their surrender to Japanese forces on the Philippines' Bataan Peninsula in April 1942.
Over the years, the photo -- which shows a procession of men walking down a dirt road, bearing bodies in blankets hung from bamboo poles -- has become perhaps the most widely published image of what came to be known as the Bataan Death March.
But for many of those years, Love, a native of Albuquerque, N.M., who fought to defend Bataan as a 19-year-old Army corporal, saw captions paired with the photo that he believed did a disservice to the truth.
Last August, Love picked up the Albuquerque Journal and saw the photo again, together with a front-page story about Bataan survivors. He called the newspaper and told an editor the caption was wrong. It described the scene as part of the infamous Death March, a forced six-day march by Japanese captors of 12,000 Americans and more than 66,000 Filipino prisoners across the peninsula. Thousands died in the march; some were killed by captors impatient with their progess, other succumbed to a lack of food, water and medical treatment.
"That picture is not of the Death March,” says Love, now 87. "The Japanese would not have tolerated a bunch of slow marching guys carrying their own dead. They wouldn't have tolerated it just one New York minute.”
A Journal reporter, Charles D. Brunt, found other local Bataan survivors who agreed, wrote a story about the conflicting information and contacted AP, the source of both the photo and the caption. That launched the cooperative's own investigation of the photo, originally supplied to news services by the U.S. military after it was confiscated from defeated Japanese forces.
Deep in the AP library of millions of photos, the caption filed with a negative in 1945 identified the image as showing U.S. and Filipino forces carrying war casualties as they neared the end of the death march and approached Camp O'Donnell, where prisoners of war were held.
AP archivists contacted the Pentagon. Eventually, that led to the original photograph, on file in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The catalog recorded it as a photo of American prisoners using improvised litters to carry comrades. But a note filed along with the image, date unknown, said that, according to a retired U.S. Army colonel, the photo was not of the death march, but of the burial detail in the weeks that followed.
That's exactly the way Love had long recalled it.
"We rounded up bamboo poles ... and we confiscated what blankets we could from the incoming prisoners. We told them we had to have them. The guys were dying faster than we could dig graves or carry them,” Love said. "We carried them 1,000 yards and we would just unload the blankets there and the guys would fall out into the graves. I did that every day until the late hours of the evening for six weeks.”
After discussing the evidence, AP decided to correct the caption. It now reads, in part, "At the time of its release, this photo was identified as dead and wounded being carried by fellow prisoners during the Bataan Death March in April 1942 ... Subsequent information from military archivists, the National Archives and Records Administration, and surviving prisoners, strongly suggests that this photo may actually depict a burial detail at Camp O'Donnell.”
It is rare for the news service to correct the information filed with a historical photo, said Valerie Komor, director of the AP Corporate Archives. There are many images in storage, and any individual photograph is likely to be re-examined only if someone calls it into question. But that does not mean the first draft of history cannot be rewritten.
"I'm glad we came to a resolution for these veterans who understandably take it very seriously, as well they should,” said Chuck Zoeller, a longtime director of the AP Photo Library who now works on the corporate communications staff. "I'm glad there's some satisfaction for them in it.”
The new caption does not change history. It merely revises a footnote, 68 long years after the fact.
But when Love recalled his experience at Bataan and his insistence that it be recorded correctly, his voice broke and his eyes welled with tears.
"I did it for the guys that I buried,” he said. "We owed it to them.”
APME WILL OFFER NEW GANNETT AWARD FOR WATCHDOG JOURNALISM IN 2010
The Gannett Foundation Award for Innovation in Watchdog Journalism will be offered for the first time this year as part of the annual APME contest.
Description: This award recognizes groundbreaking work by a journalist or a staff that creatively uses digital tools in the role of being a community's watchdog. Special consideration is given to journalism that helps a community understand and address important issues. Criteria for evaluating innovation include interactivity, creation of new tools, innovative adaptation of existing tools, and creative use of any digital medium. An entry will consist of a single story, series or package on a single subject.
Entries will be judged by APME. Two winners will be selected, with each receiving $2,500.
2010 RALPH FLAMMINIO MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP
Applications for the 2010 Ralph Flamminio Memorial Scholarship, one of the most prestigious journalism scholarships available in Pennsylvania, will be accepted until April 15, according to the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors who make the annual selection. The winner will receive a $3,000 cash award and be presented with the scholarship at the PAPME's annual conference in May in Harrisburg.
The award is named after Flamminio, who was editor of the Allentown Morning Call and Coatesville Record. Flamminio was known for building a spirit of cooperation that has become the hallmark of the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors. Prior to his death in 1986, Ralph was a champion of close association of Pennsylvania newspapers. He believed PAPME
could strengthen the network of newspapers and enrich its content by making stories more relevant to readers through contributions to The Associated Press.
Applicants for the award must be Pennyslvania residents and attend a four-year institution. While candidates do not have to be journalism majors, they should be determined to pursue a career in journalism.
To apply, students should submit a cover letter describing their experience in print journalism, interest in the field and what they might contribute to the craft as a journalist, a college transcript, up to five clips and a letter of recommendation from a faculty member or other professional.
Applications can be sent to Larry Holeva, PAPME Scholarship Chairman, c/o The Citizens' Voice, 75 N. Washington St., Wilkes-Barre, PA 18711
AP CORPORATE ARCHIVES OFFERS BOOKLET FOR STATE MEETINGS ON RISKS JOURNALISTS TAKE TO COVER WARS
The AP Corporate Archives is producing a 70-page booklet entitled "The Costs of War:AP Journalists in Beirut, Kabul, and Baghdad, 1975-2010.” The booklet highlights the complex risks taken by AP journalists and local staff in covering the Lebanon civil war and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It features photographs and documents drawn from the Beirut and Cairo bureau records, the text archive, and the photo library, with commentary by Corporate Archives Director Valerie Komor.
The booklet is accompanied by a DVD featuring a selection of oral history interviews conducted last year with AP reporters and photographers in the Middle East.
The Archives is making the booklets available for state AP meetings. For more information, contact Valerie Komor at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 212-621-1731.
APME's GREAT IDEAS CD GIVEAWAY
The Texas APME convention is using APME's Great Ideas CD as a giveaway at the conference. The CD has terrific ideas that editors can use throughout the year. It might work for your conference too.
BOOK REVIEW: Seymour Topping Leaves Nothing Out of Memoir
By RICHARD PYLE
For The Associated Press
"On the Front Lines of the Cold War: An American Correspondent's Journal From the Chinese Civil War to the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam” (LSU, 397 pages, $39.95), by Seymour Topping: A former editor of The New York Times sits down to write his memoir and the title alone runs 24 words. But what else, one might ask, was a reporter with Topping's breadth and depth of experience to do?
Topping, who retired as managing editor of the Times in 1987, needed a lot of words for a long-awaited personal account of the 4 1/2 decades he spent holding hands with history.
As suggested by the basic title, "On the Front Lines of the Cold War,” Topping -- or "Top,” as he is known to longtime associates -- was a witness to some of the most crucial events of the last half of the 20th century.
And not just a witness. At times he was so close to the events, leaders and others in the arena, he was virtually there himself, though conscious of the need to maintain the critical distance between himself and those he was covering.
Indeed, Topping describes being invited to sit in on one meeting of high-level administration officials, only to have them, at the end, turn to him for his views.
Over the years, Topping came in direct contact with Mao Zedong, Chiang Kai-shek, Nikita Khruschev and Fidel Castro, along with soldiers, spies, diplomats, authors and fellow journalists.
While getting it all down for spot news dispatches, he clearly kept posterity in mind. Judging by the detail densely packed into 397 pages, he filed stories from every exotic dateline and never threw away a notebook.
Especially interesting is Topping's tale of being sent by his then-employer, The Associated Press, to become the first American correspondent based in French Indochina after World War II. Minutes after he and his wife, Audrey, arrived in Saigon in February 1950, a terrorist bomb exploded outside their hotel, killing and wounding dozens of French colonial soldiers.
The following year, Topping covered the arrival of a young U.S Congressman on a "study tour” visit. At the airport, the visitor asked to meet with Topping and the next day, John F. Kennedy climbed the stairs to the Toppings' small apartment, "seated himself in an easy chair near the bamboo bar” and peppered Topping with two hours of questions about "every aspect of the Vietnam conflict.”
No one could imagine the visit would have a "profound impact” on U.S. policy in Indochina, Topping says; that a decade later, JFK as president would order 400 military advisers to help the shaky South Vietnamese regime fight a communist takeover.
Topping's writing conveys a passion for his craft, but his scrupulous concern for the minutiae of events might intimidate readers looking for a fast, exciting read. Even so, the book is a feast for students of history who want to know not just how things turned out, but also how it actually happened.
Born in the Bronx section of New York and seasoned as an infantry officer in World War II, Topping joined the Hearst-owned International News Service in China, jumped to the steadier AP there, and ultimately wound up as managing editor of The New York Times.
After his final departure from the Times in 1993, he taught journalism at Columbia University and served as its administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes.
There's plenty here for students of journalism history, including courtly accounts of the executive suite and newsroom intrigues for which the Times is noted, and such memorable controversies as Timesman Harrison Salisbury's disputed reports from Hanoi in late 1966 and the Pentagon Papers in 1971 -- both of which happened on Topping's watch as foreign editor.
At the end, Topping summarizes the failure of American policy not only in Vietnam but also, in his view, just about everywhere.
This gloomy record is one of "flawed government handling of national security issues” by successive administrations from Harry Truman to George W. Bush, he writes.
But he wraps it all up with a hopeful prediction: that today's financially beleaguered newspapers will meet the challenges of the digital age "if they retain the courage and quality of journalism” that made organizations such as the Times, The Washington Post and the AP "the most respected and quoted of news outlets” worldwide.
John Nance, a former Associated Press reporter and photographer who covered the Vietnam War and later oversaw the news cooperative's operations in the Philippines, has died. He was 74. Nance was named the AP's bureau chief in the Philippines in 1968. While there, he began writing about the Tasaday tribe discovered in the rain forest in 1971. He wrote three books about the cave-dwelling tribe and created a foundation that brought them health care and taught them about agriculture. He also took thousands of photographs of the tribe. During his reporting on the Tasaday, he befriended aviator Charles Lindbergh, who had helped preserve the tribe's home. Nance graduated from the University of Oregon and worked for three years in Portland. He left the AP briefly and then rejoined in 1965 to cover the Vietnam War. He spent two years there as a photographer and reporter. He became bureau chief in the Philippines in 1968 and left the company in 1978. Afterward, he continued to write about the Philippines and the Tasaday tribe. Nance moved to Ohio in the late 1990s and worked as a writer in residence at the Thurber House, a nonprofit literary center and museum that was the home of New Yorker cartoonist James Thurber.
Roy Steinfort, a veteran newsman and former vice president of The Associated Press who turned the agency's radio operations into a service providing news to millions of listeners worldwide, died March 21. He was 88. Steinfort died after a short battle with cancer, said his widow, Patricia Milton. In 2005, he had been seriously injured in an auto accident near his Leesburg, Va., home. In a journalism career spanning some 40 years, Steinfort went from covering sports in his native Kentucky to running a weekly paper to chief of all broadcast operations for the AP. He retired in 1986.
A 13,000-mile drive south: NYC to Argentina
By NICOLAS RAPP
Associated Press Writer
CHACABUCO, Argentina (AP) -- It was just like driving to work, except that I kept on going: From New York to Argentina, through 12 countries, for four months and more than 13,000 miles.
It's the first leg of my overland trip around the world, an expedition that I consider the last true adventure on earth. From Buenos Aires, I will ship my car to Africa, fly across to meet it, and continue the drive, heading north to Europe, east to Asia, and finally, later this year, returning to North America.
My adventure began Nov. 15 when I gave up my apartment, quit my job as art director for The Associated Press, and set off in a '96 Toyota Land Cruiser outfitted with a rooftop tent, fridge, stove and portable toilet.
Since then, I've driven through jungles, mountains and fog, across dirt roads, desert sand and salt fields. Crooked police officers tried to shake me down and bad maps led me to places where the road disappeared.
I saw monkeys in the Costa Rican rainforest, pink flamingos in Bolivia, and herds of llamas in Peru, along with pigs the size of ponies. I camped on beaches in Nicaragua so beautiful and remote that you forget you have to go back to civilization one day. I visited the Mayan ruins of Copan in Honduras, ancient tombs and painted caves in Tierradentro, Colombia, and the Spanish colonial city of Quito, Ecuador.
A story about the trip that appeared in newspapers and Web sites before I left resulted in thousands of comments on chat boards, hundreds of e-mails to me, and scores of invitations. I am grateful for the kindness, generosity and hospitality of so many strangers who provided meals and a place to sleep. Notes I posted on a Land Cruiser message board also brought people out to help. It was nice to see that there is a real community behind all these electronic messages on the Internet.
But a few offers I turned down -- one from a cable TV crew that wanted to accompany me and another from a company that wanted to pay me to wear a certain jacket throughout the trip.
Many well-wishers keep track of my trip through my blog, TransWorldExpedition.com, where I post updates and photos from the road. One e-mail I received included a marriage proposal for my traveling companion, Nadia Hubschwerlin. Nadia is a childhood friend; we are not romantically tied. In my blog, I told her suitor: "I will be glad to be the witness at her wedding as long as you are a decent guy.”
It was chilly in New York when we started out, but we drove away from the cold weather, heading south on highways that roughly followed the Appalachian Trail to Georgia. We stopped in New Orleans (I am French and I wish that France had never sold Louisiana), then crossed the border from Texas to Mexico and drove southeast through Central America. We drove through Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica to Panama, where the Pan-American Highway ends at the Darien Gap.
The Darien Gap, a roadless region of swamps and rainforests that stretches 90 miles to the tip of Colombia, makes it impossible to drive the entire distance to South America. So we shipped the car from Panama to Colombia and flew there to pick it up, then drove south, through Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia to Argentina.
We camped on beaches and in parks, and often got permission to sleep on farms, where there was plenty of space and where people are accustomed to seeing seasonal helpers. In Costa Rica, there were so many Americans it was like the 51st state. We were also welcomed into homes in Guatemala, where everyone seemed to have at least one relative working in the U.S.
Sometimes we paid a few dollars for a cheap hotel or camp site, other times people let us stay for free. We would park our car, drag a table out, and begin to cook before nightfall. In the morning, we would fix coffee with the delicious beans collected across the best growing areas of Central America. We bought food in markets, and our gasoline-powered stove was our best friend along the way, especially in the cold, high mountains.
In hot, dusty places, it was hard to go without showers. We bathed every few days, sometimes in a home, hotel or campground, sometimes in a lake or with buckets.
In Cusco, Peru, for $4 a person, we rented a hotel room and looked forward to a shower. Of course in the morning, there was no hot water. That became a classic situation, as hotel owners would always promise it, but you would never get it. Hot water was our Machu Picchu: Always wanted to see it, with no success. (Machu Picchu is closed due to flooding.)
But we had a wonderful visit to a Cusco food market. We drank coca leaf tea and bought a massive amount of cheese, the best we had in a long time. Peruvians are good bakers, too; the bread is similar to what you find in France.
Car trouble has been our constant enemy. In Mexico, we drove with the hood open due to overheating. In Honduras, a map misled us to a tiny village in the northern mountains where the road ended. Driving back the next day, the steering failed and we crashed. We were unhurt but the car needed parts and repairs. Eventually we drove to Managua, Nicaragua, with a damaged axle. There someone heated the metal and we bent it back as best we could.
On our way to Cusco, we got stuck in the mud for a day, and two truckers who tried to help us got stuck there too. Finally a road crew rescued us. Then as we drove beneath a hillside, we were showered with stones from a landslide above. In Bolivia, truck drivers were staging a nationwide protest with blockades; we got through by joining a media convoy.
At every border crossing, we filled out stacks of meaningless papers, always looking for the next stamp. In a few places, police officers seeing U.S. license plates pulled us over for imaginary infractions. In Honduras, I pretended not to understand and they went away. In Mexico, a police officer asked us for $5 to buy a chicken. I gave him $2 and he was happy.
In Managua, we got stopped by police 15 times; at one point I had to pay $15 when they threatened to keep my license. At the Bolivian border, we had this conversation with a customs official:
"OK, senor, everything is OK, and now you can make a contribution.”
"What do you mean, I don't understand.”
"I don't have any money.”
"Si senor, contribution.”
"So is it corruption?”
"No senor, just contribution for the office.”
In the end they let me through without paying because I had no local currency.
Before leaving the U.S., I met with a fellow adventurer, Al Podell, who co-wrote a book called "Who Needs a Road?” about his own round-the-world drive in the mid-1960s. The book was a major inspiration for my trip. Al told me he was doubtful I would succeed, but he offered to hire three women armed with machine guns to protect me in Colombia. I had to decline, but the fact that he cared went straight to my heart. Al, you are the best.
We made it through Colombia OK, but safety is always on my mind. In Cusco, 10 minutes after arriving, a guy took a laptop from the trunk. I chased him and got it back. Twenty minutes later, some other guy tried to force open the trunk, fortunately with no success. We spent the rest of our time there locking and unlocking doors and paying extra attention to our surroundings.
Back in the ‘90s, Al and his co-author said that their 42,000-mile journey around the world "was a motor trip that cannot be repeated in our modern day and age.”
As I prepare to leave South America for Africa and the rest of the trip, I am determined to prove them wrong.
ABOUT US: APME Update is published regularly by the Associated Press Managing Editors Association. APME Update is edited by Sally Jacobsen. Send submissions by e-mail to mailto:email@example.com?subject= APME%20update%20question/ commentor call Sally at (212) 621-7007.
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