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Watchdog reporting: Impact journalism from the past week

Wednesday, August 10, 2016   (0 Comments)
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A look at some examples of impact reporting from the past week.

Chicago Tribune: The price of pork

When the sickening odor swept across Matt Heissinger's farmstead, his daughter would sprint from their home to the car, the Chicago Tribune reports. Clinging to the girl's clothes and hair, the smell drove her to tears as she feared becoming a high school outcast. Heissinger's wife often was forced to stay indoors, suffering from headaches and congestion, while the soft-spoken farmer worked his cows and crops with smarting eyes and a raspy throat. On the field next door, pork producers had erected a 3,600-hog confinement facility, where hundreds of thousands of gallons of manure emit gases that have ruined the Heissingers' quality of life. The assessed value of their farm was cut in half because "breezes from the hog confinement across their property are awful," the state tax board concluded. "A lot of our money is tied up in this farm," Heissinger said. "Our nest egg isn't there no more." Across Illinois, the nation's fourth-largest seller of pigs, large hog confinements have exploded in number and size. Raising pigs for slaughter in an efficient, factory-like setting, the operations help hold down the price of the most widely consumed meat in the world. But all that cheap pork comes at a harsh and until now unmeasured cost. Documenting the impact of this profound shift for the first time, the Tribune found a state regulatory system that failed to protect rural communities as pork producers repeatedly exploited weak Illinois laws to build and expand the massive facilities.

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Austin American-Statesman: Austin police DWI crash statistics keep changing

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the Austin Police Department has had an ever-changing answer to a simple question: How many drunken driving wrecks did the city have in 2014? The number provided last fall was 454, indicating an astonishing 23 percent drop in such crashes from the prior year. Uber and Lyft, which officially launched here in 2014, cited it as proof the ride-hailing services made Austin’s streets safer. Then, just days before the highly charged May election on the city’s new ride-hailing rules, the American-Statesman discovered police had recalculated the 2014 figure to 523, slashing the drop in such crashes to 12 percent. And then, days after the defeat of the Proposition 1 rules favored by Lyft and Uber, the Police Department disclosed it had recalculated the figure in response to the Statesman’s questions. This time, the department came up with 483 drunken driving crashes for 2014, suggesting a 17 percent drop. “The bottom line: We made a mistake,” said Ron MacKay, the department’s Planning and Crime Analysis Division manager, who oversees the unit that produced the faulty statistics. … The Statesman’s month-long investigation found a variety of problems with the department’s data collection.

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Arizona Republic: Top university official travels in style

The University of Arizona’s top health scholar is a man on the move — across the U.S. and abroad to places like South Korea, Japan and Denmark, the Arizona Republic reports. Over nearly three years ending in early 2016, his publicly paid expenses for out-of-state trips exceeded $44,000. But in-state travel expenses during the same period for Dr. Joe G.N. “Skip” Garcia, UA’s senior vice president for health sciences, were also costly: $34,000-plus. Garcia is among the university’s highest-paid employees, with total compensation of $870,000 last year. He repeatedly has billed the UA for travel luxuries that are rare among public employees, including upgraded airline seats and chauffeured trips in comfortable sedans between his offices in Tucson and Phoenix.

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