Commentary
10:57 am
Mon March 14, 2011

Saving Newspapers

It’s hardly a secret that newspapers aren’t doing very well these days. Over the decades, they’ve been gradually replaced as the nation’s universal mass medium by television.

Newspaper’s biggest economic blow came, however, with the flight of advertising revenue to the Internet. This, combined with an ever-more busy public bombarded by more and more media choices, has badly wounded what was once a thriving industry. And, left us in danger of being dangerously uninformed as well. Ann Arbor, for example, no longer has a daily newspaper at all.

The problem is perhaps most acute in Detroit, where, twenty-five years ago, the Detroit News and Free Press sold a combined total of one point three million newspapers every day.

That number has declined ever since. Audited figures show that as of last September, they were down to a combined circulation of less than four hundred thousand, a number that has dropped further since then.

To save money two years ago, Detroit’s newspapers embarked on an experiment in which they would deliver the papers only three days a week, and asked consumers to read them online or go to the store and buy it the rest of the week. This really hasn’t worked.

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Arts/Culture
10:14 am
Mon March 14, 2011

AnnArbor.com lays off 14 employees

AnnArbor.com replaced the 174-year old daily Ann Arbor News in 2009
Jennifer Guerra Michigan Radio

Update March 14th, 10:14 a.m.

Tony Dearing is AnnArbor.com's chief content officer. He posted a comment over the weekend on AnnArbor.com about the layoffs. Here's what he wrote:

While personnel issues are an internal matter and we don't discuss them publicly, I can confirm that we reorganized our newsroom this week to put our focus more squarely on local news coverage. As a new organization, we have tried a lot of things. Now that we are well into our second year, the community has told us very resoundingly that what it wants most from us is hard news coverage, particularly in the areas of government, education, police, courts, health, the environment, University of Michigan sports, and business. These areas of coverage account for all but a tiny percentage of our readership and revenue. Meanwhile, we also have put a lot of effort toward other things -- including lifestyle topics like Passions and Pursuits, The Deuce, Homes and some areas of Entertainment coverage -- that our community has shown much less interest in, and we are scaling back in those areas.

We have made tremendous progress since we launched, and we continue to be very happy with the growth we're seeing in audience and revenue. But from the beginning, we said that we would be shaped by what the community wants, and the community wants us to focus more sharply on local news reporting. We have repositioned ourselves to throw our energy and resources into our local news coverage and that is how we will operate moving forward as we continue to grow.

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Economy
9:44 am
Mon March 14, 2011

Buy Detroit effort hopes to spur city's economy

Jennuine Captures Flickr

Three major Detroit institutions are looking to leverage their spending to give a boost to the city’s economy.

Henry Ford Health System, the Detroit Medical Center and Wayne State University are all part of an initiative to revitalize the city’s Midtown area. And the “buy Detroit” campaign is part of that.

So far, the three institutions have shifted about $400,000 to Detroit businesses, says Lisa Prasad is with U3 Ventures, a firm that's helping with the project. 

"The number may be very small at the moment compared to their overall procurement, but we think the growth will be exponential once we really get it institutionalized."

Prasad says food is one thing all three institutions have been able to buy more locally.

Combined, the university and health systems spend $1.6 billion a year.

News Roundup
8:11 am
Mon March 14, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, March 14th, 2011

Protests Scheduled Over Snyder Budget

Groups across the state are planning protests today over Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal. Demonstrations are planned for cities including Grand Rapids, Lansing, Kalamazoo, and Ann Arbor. Protestors will include state workers, small business owners, and retirees, the Associated Press reports:

A press release issued by the liberal group Progress Michigan says Snyder's proposal is "an attack on Michigan families and their future." Snyder says his budget represents "shared sacrifice" and puts Michigan on the path to a better future because it solves the state's budget ills. His $45.9 billion proposal includes spending cuts for schools and would eliminate many personal tax breaks while slashing business taxes. The state is facing an estimated $1.4 billion shortfall.

Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami Threaten Car Exports

Some car plants in Japan remain closed as a result of last week’s massive earthquake and tsunami.  Japanese carmakers say it’s too early to know if the disaster will hurt their exports to the U.S., Tracy Samilton reports. Toyota, Nissan, Subaru and Honda suspended most of their operations in Japan after the disaster.

March Madness

The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament bracket was released yesterday. Seven Big Ten teams made the cut. No. 8 seed the University of Michigan will play No. 9 seed Tennessee on Friday. Michigan State University earned a No. 10 seed and will play No. 7 seed UCLA on Thursday. Oakland University also made the tournament. Oakland will play the Texas Longhorns on Friday.

Education
7:44 am
Mon March 14, 2011

Governor Snyder to deliver Spring Commencement address at the University of Michigan

Governor Rick Snyder delivering his inaugural address, January 1st, 2011
Corvair Owner Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder will deliver the main address at the University of Michigan's Spring Commencement this year. The governor will also receive an honorary Doctor of Law degree. From the University Record

Snyder was inaugurated as Michigan's 48th governor Jan. 1. Honorary degrees for Snyder and five additional recipients have been recommended for approval by the Board of Regents at its March 17 meeting.

It is customary for the university to extend an invitation to a newly elected governor to receive an honorary degree and provide the commencement address. The university community is honored that Snyder was able to accept the invitation and looks forward to his address, President Mary Sue Coleman says.

"As a Michigan alumnus and the state's chief executive, Governor Snyder is uniquely positioned to tell our graduates about the challenges and rewards of leadership. We look forward to his message, and to presenting honorary degrees to the exceptional individuals who will join us in celebrating the Class of 2011," Coleman says.

From U-M, Snyder obtained a bachelor's degree in general studies in 1977, a Master of Business Administration degree in 1979, and a Juris Doctorate in 1982.

The University's Spring Commencement will take place April 30th at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

Offbeat
7:04 am
Mon March 14, 2011

Fake Twitter account for Michigan budget director

A fake Twitter account has been made for Michigan Budget Director John Nixon. The FakeJohnNixon account started last week and has already posted almost 150 tweets. The Associated Press reports:

The fake account notes that Nixon is Michigan's highest-paid state employee and is consuming Michigan's economy "one big gargantuan bite at a time." It adds, "Just call me Budget Crunch."

A spokesman for Nixon says the budget director "has a great sense of humor" and realizes the tweets aren't to be taken seriously.

There's also a FakeRickSnyder Twitter account on Gov. Rick Snyder with fewer posts.

State Legislature
6:48 am
Mon March 14, 2011

Protests to continue at state Capitol

Protests are expected to continue at the state Capitol this week as lawmakers debate local takeover bills
Thetoad Flickr

More protests are expected this week at the state Capitol as lawmakers continue to debate new rules for cities and school districts that run into trouble paying their bills.

The controversy is one of the first big showdowns between Republicans and Democrats this year over government reforms.

Unions and Democrats have pretty much given up on trying to stop the measures. They’ve turned their efforts to limiting its scope to protect bargaining rights, as well as cap emergency manager salaries, and require them to periodically meet with the public – so far without any luck.

Doug Withey is a Teamsters bargainer.

“Every community in the state, every governing body has an open meeting. Have the public involved with that. Nope. Not reasonable. Vote it down.”

But Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville say an emergency takeover would be the last option after all else has failed.

“The intent of the legislation is to get into an emergency situation and fix it before it becomes a catastrophe.”

Governor Rick Snyder says his goal is not more state takeovers.

 “Anytime you have an emergency manager come in, that’s a failure point. The best answer is to put in a better early-warning system – to figure out how to work with communities before they reach the point of needing a financial manager because a lot of things can be done in those earlier stages to avoid the issue and that’s the best answer.”

Right now, Richardville, Governor Snyder and Republicans have the numbers they need in the Legislature to prevail.

March Madness
6:45 am
Mon March 14, 2011

U of M, MSU, and Oakland University make NCAA tournament

The University of Michigan basketball team plays Bryant, December, 2010
Cseeman Flickr

It’s time for March Madness, which means the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament begins this week.

Seven Big Ten teams made the cut.

No. 8 seed the University of Michigan will play No. 9 seed Tennessee on Friday. Michigan State University earned a No. 10 seed and will play No. 7 seed UCLA on Thursday.

Oakland University also made the tournament. Oakland will play the Texas Longhorns on Friday.

medical marijuana
6:28 am
Mon March 14, 2011

Safe under medical marijuana laws, and driving laws?

Is it against the law for medical marijuana patients to drive if they've smoked earier that day?
Craig Finlay Creative Commons

Michigan’s medical marijuana law allows people to use the drug, but motor vehicle laws forbid driving with any marijuana in your system. The legal battle could head to the State Court of Appeals.

Rodney Koon was pulled over for speeding a little over a year ago. Officers in Traverse City found a pipe in his pocket so he showed them his medical marijuana card. The Traverse City Eagle-Record says Koon was charged with driving under the influence of a schedule one controlled substance (others include ecstasy, heroin, and LSD) after a drug test revealed he had marijuana in his system.

A county judge ruled the state’s medical marijuana law protects Koon from prosecution. He said prosecutors need to have more solid evidence a driver is impaired while driving. State driving laws say people can’t drive with even a trace amount of schedule one controlled substances in their system.  

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is supporting the Grand Traverse County Prosecutor’s appeal to the State Court of Appeals. He says Koon isn’t “being prosecuted for using marijuana, but for driving shortly after using it.”

Auto/Economy
10:20 pm
Sun March 13, 2011

Most customers think their new car dealers are honest

Most people think their dealerships are being honest about recommended repair and maintenance work.  That’s  according to an annual survey by J.D. Power.  

J.D. Power says only 7% of people say their dealer tried to sell them maintenance or repairs they didn’t need.  The practice is called “upselling.”

Research director John Obsborn says customers’ satisfaction with dealerships has been steadily improving for a decade:

" Unfortunately there are many stereotypes out there about the dealers -- but our data indicates that they provide high levels of satisfaction both in the servicing of vehicles and the selling of vehicles."

Osborn says vehicle quality has also been improving for the past ten years – and that tends to increase people’s satisfaction with their dealerships, who don’t have to give customers bad news in the form of high repair bills as often.   

The survey found little difference among perceptions of upselling between brands, luxury and non-luxury vehicles, or between men and women. 

Younger customers were, however, more likely to think their dealership was trying to sell them an unnecessary repair or maintenance.

Education
4:29 pm
Sun March 13, 2011

Teachers could see freeze on pay & benefits during negotiations

Michigan State Capitol
Lester Graham

A bill passed by the Michigan House would freeze educators’ salaries during contract negotiations.  It would require employees (and not their employer) to pay for increases in insurance fees during negotiations. The bill would also ban retroactive bargaining. So if an agreement was reached six months down the road, employees would not be reimbursed for the higher rates they paid.

Doug Pratt is with the Michigan Education Association.  He says the M-E-A wants the Senate to reject the bill.

“I’d like to see a real conversation in this state about what’s driving our financial crises. It’s not the compensation we provide to dedicated educators. It’s a broken tax structure; it’s a failure on the part of our state leaders to make tough choices to invest in the kind of state we all want to live in.”

Supporters of the bill say school districts cannot afford to pay the rising benefit costs, nor pay for the raises teachers get with time and experience.

Environment
2:47 pm
Sun March 13, 2011

Group rushes to clone trees

Tree at Lake Wanaka
Flickr user wili_hybrid

A nonprofit organization is rushing to clone some of the world's biggest and oldest trees in an audacious plan to restore forests that could help cleanse the environment and fight climate change.   

The Archangel Ancient Tree Archive is based in Copemish, MI. The group has tracked down and made genetic copies of "champion" members of more than 60 species. Among them are redwoods and giant sequoias from California's northern coast and oaks up to 1,000 years old from Ireland.   

Co-founder David Milarch says the group is focusing on 200 species that perform ecologically valuable jobs such as absorbing toxic chemicals and storing carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. Archangel hopes to sell millions of its trees for replanting in cities and rural areas.

Economy
12:39 pm
Sun March 13, 2011

Daylight saving time: a payroll headache

Computing pay for third-shift workers can get a bit complicated when Daylight Saving Time starts and ends.
inquisitr.com

There are fans and foes of daylight saving time, which began at 2 a.m. Sunday.

It means setting our clocks forward an hour, and for many, that means losing an hour of sleep every spring.

But for shift workers, it means working one  hour less.

Beth Skaggs is an attorney with Varnum Law in Grand Rapids.

She says daylight saving time can get a bit confusing when it comes to payroll

“For employers, it can create some headaches when they have third-shift workers who are actually working at the time when daylight saving time change occurs,” Skaggs  says.

Varnum says in the spring,  employers are not required to pay workers for the phantom hour when daylight saving time takes effect.

However, she says employers are required to pay for the extra hour worked when daylight saving time ends in the fall.

Science/Medicine
12:28 pm
Sun March 13, 2011

Study to examine whether air pollution can cause diabetes, heart disease

Study will focus on air pollution's effects on in Detroit and in rural areas.
wired.com

It’s no secret that air pollution can lead to breathing problems, like asthma. But a new study will look at what else pollutants may be doing to humans.

Michigan State University has been named a Clean Air Research Center by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Scientists will investigate how certain mixtures of air pollutants affect human health.

MSU professor Jack  Harkema is leading the study.

He says certain toxins may contribute to or even cause heart disease or diabetes, especially in people with other health issues.

"One of those risk groups are people who are overweight or obese," Harkema says. "And maybe you wouldn't think of that right away, but we have some evidence, just like  cigarette smoke, can affect multiple organ systems."

The study will take place primarily in the Detroit area and in rural areas.

University of Michigan and Ohio State University researchers are also taking part.

Education
3:14 pm
Sat March 12, 2011

Detroit schools offer new plan to cut deficit

The emergency financial manager for Detroit's public schools is floating a new proposal to cut into the district's costs by turning over the operations of 41 academically struggling schools to outside groups or charter school operators.  

The district says Saturday in a release that Robert Bobb's "Renaissance Plan 2012" would reduce operating costs by up to $99 million and address the district's declining enrollment heading into the 2011 to 2012 fiscal year. It also would mean closing fewer schools as called for in a state-approved plan to eliminate the district's $327 million legacy deficit.

The deficit elimination plan would close 70 schools and increase class sizes in some high schools to 62 students. Bobb has said that plan would not be good for the district or students.

Auto/Economy
5:43 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Japanese car exports to U.S. threatened by tsunami

Many car plants in Japan remain closed as a result of the massive earthquake and tsunami. 

Japanese carmakers say it’s too early to know if the disaster will hurt their exports to the U.S. 

Toyota, Nissan, Subaru and Honda suspended most of their operations in Japan after the disaster, and many plants remain closed today.

Nissan says small fires broke out at two plants but the fires were quickly extinguished. 

One Honda employee in Japan was killed when a cafeteria wall collapsed at Honda’s Research & Development Center in Tochigi. 

More than thirty Honda employees were also injured in Honda facilities in Tochigi due to ceilings collapsing and other damage that took place during the earthquake.

Exports to the U.S. are threatened not just by damage to plants but damage to Japanese ports. 

There could also be parts disruptions from damage to Japanese suppliers.

Crime
5:10 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Eastern Michigan University suffers security breach of personal information

Over 45 EMU students have been left vulnerable to identity theft
mconnors morgueFile

Officials at Eastern Michigan University are investigating two former student employees who allegedly stole personal information when they worked for the University. At least 45 EMU students could now be vulnerable to identity theft.

Walter Kraft is EMU’s Vice President of Communications and said the university discovered the breach during another investigation. He says the university is working with federal authorities to investigate the breach:

"We’re obviously pursuing it aggressively. Our department of public safety has notified federal authorities that are joining us in the investigation."

Students whose information was compromised have been contacted. EMU officials have not said if the stolen information was used.

Though the investigation is ongoing, Kraft encourages those with questions to visit the University's website for more information.

-Bridget Bodnar, Michigan Radio News

Politics
4:50 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Unions say EFM bills bad for teachers

The scene in Lansing, from February 26
User P.E.C. Flickr

A teachers’ union leader says a proposal in the Legislature to give emergency financial managers sweeping control over school districts is a bad deal for educators.

The Michigan Senate approved the bills this week that would dissolve union contracts and eliminate collective bargaining rights at the local level if an emergency manager were put in control of a school district, city or township.

David Hecker is vice president of the Michigan division of the American Teachers Federation union. He says many financial problems can be better addressed through collective bargaining.

Hecker appeared on public television’s “Off The Record.”

“It either eliminates or severely undercuts collective bargaining – so it hurts the middle class – and it also hurts education. Because, you know, the problem with the EFM bill is if it’s an issue – and it’s an issue, there are districts and there are cities who are in financial difficulties – but you just don’t throw out a solution. You figure out what the problem is, and then you craft a solution.”

“We rather Governor Snyder work with us, we all work with the Legislature, and we work in support of communities, we work in support of the middle class, we work in support of our students. We think the EFM bill works against communities, works against the middle class, and is not good for our students. So Governor Snyder has a choice. We rather work together than become Wisconsin.”

“If people think we need this hammer to come to the table to say ‘yeah, health care costs are increasing, we have to address it. The school district’s in debt, we have to address it,’ we already do that at the table. You know, what do you say to a secretary of Detroit Public Schools who makes 22-thousand dollars a year and just took a three-percent pay cut?”

The House is expected to vote on the emergency financial manager bills next week. Governor Rick Snyder called for the reforms in his State of the State address.

Japanese Earthquake
4:50 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Earthquake "nightmare scenario" for Michigan students from Japan

Universities across the state are reporting all students they have studying overseas in Japan are safe and accounted for. But many students from Japan who are studying in Michigan are trying to get in touch with friends and relatives.

Thirty-year old Tomomi Suwa is working on her doctorate degree at Michigan State.

 “As an international student I fear about this kind crisis a lot. I live so far away from home that sometimes it’s very difficult to get a hold of family or friends. It’s like a nightmare scenario for me.”

Her father called Suwa and woke her up at 6 o-clock Friday morning to tell her the news about the earthquake. She says she wasn’t totally shocked by the news. She grew up practicing earthquake and tsunami drills at school and she’s experienced numerous earthquakes. The biggest registered 4.4 on the Richter scale. 

“At that magnitude you can really feel that things are moving around; it’s already scary at 4.4. So I can’t even imagine what 8.8 or 8.9 could be.”

So far, Suwa says she’s very relieved all of her family and friends that she’s been able to contact on the phone or online are okay. But she has not been able to get in touch with everyone yet. 

The University of Michigan, Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University, and Eastern Michigan University each have students currently in Japan for classes overseas.

Economy
4:45 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Snyder says agriculture key to small business growth

Governor Snyder says it's important to process the commodities made in Michigan.
Helen Hanley creative commons

Governor Rick Snyder says agriculture is a key part of his strategy to focus economic development efforts on small businesses.

The governor spoke today to the Future Farmers of America state convention. He says there’s lots of room to grow small businesses processing farm products in rural areas of the state.

"There’s an opportunity there to do more economic development in our smaller towns and our villages, and one of those connections is if you look at it, we’re producing all these great commodity products, and if we can do more and more to say let’s continue the processing of these products right where they are being produced, that’s an opportunity to create jobs in these smaller communities. "

At the same time, Snyder says he wants to rely less on tax breaks and other industry-specific incentives to create jobs.

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