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Every Thursday we speak with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

This week it’s all about campaign finance. Michigan Radio’s Jennifer White discusses the money behind presidential and state races.

Over the past few months the Changing Gears team has been bringing you stories of Midwest Migration---about those who have left the region for other parts of the country and beyond.

Tune into Michigan Radio this Sunday at 9p.m. to hear “Where Did Everybody Go?, " an hour-long Changing Gears documentary that tells the stories of people who left the Midwest, and some who came home.

More info at Changing Gears.

A Pontiac teacher who says she was fired after helping her students organize a fundraiser for the family of Trayvon Martin is receiving support in the form of over 200,000 petition signatures. According to the Detroit Free Press, the online petition calls for Brooke Harris to be reinstated to her post at Pontiac Academy for Excellence and organizers plan to present the signatures during a meeting of the school's board at 5p.m. today.

From the Free Press:

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit based in Montgomery, Ala., started the petition.

The district has denied Harris was fired because of the fundraiser, but Superintendent Jacqueline Cassell previously told the Free Press she could not discuss a personnel issue.

According to Harris, the Free Press writes, students in her yearbook class planned to raise money and pledged to wear hoodies to school, a violation of the school's dress code meant to show solidarity with Martin who was wearing one when he was shot and killed in Florida earlier this year.

Harris told the Free Press that when school administrators became aware of the plan, they moved to block it:

Harris said Cassell said no, and when she asked whether students could meet with Cassell to make their case, she was suspended for two days for being insubordinate.

Harris said she came to the school while suspended, so her suspension was extended to two weeks, but she was fired after questioning it.

It remains to be seen if the petition will have any effect on Harris' employment status.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Peter Payette/Interlochen Public Radio

by Peter Payette for The Environment Report

There’s a new book out today about an unusual conservation project based in northern Michigan.  For most of the last two decades, a man from Copemish has been cloning old trees around the world.  David Milarch believes the genetics of these trees are superior and could be useful in the era of climate change.  The author of the book says he might have a point. 

Back in the year 2000, an elm tree not far from David Milarch’s home was diagnosed with Dutch elm disease.

It was not just any elm.

It was the National Champion American elm at the time. That means it was the largest known elm in the country. Milarch tried to heal the tree with a soil treatment but it died. He did manage to clone the Buckley elm.

Today at the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, there are about a dozen copies of the tree.

"Here’s the Buckley elm, the greatest elm in America.  And it’s living on and it can be utilized. That’s really what it’s all about."

CDC / wikimedia commons

Health officials have confirmed a case of  tuberculosis at a high school in suburban Detroit.

WXYZ-TV reports that a student at Northville High School was diagnosed with an active case of the disease and local health officials are working to determine the extent of possible exposure.

From WXYZ:

Parents were notified Monday by a letter from Principal Robert E. Watson, “The protocol followed by the Health Department is to identify other individuals who may be at higher risk of exposure to Tuberculosis during the infectious time period… and to provide an opportunity for testing the identified individuals. ” The infectious time period in this case was January 2012 through April 2012.

Active TB, unlike the latent form of the disease, causes symptoms, is transmittable, and can be fatal if untreated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, TB bacteria are primarily spread through the air from person to person (e.g. through coughing or sneezing and inhaling bacteria) but not through physical contact like shaking hands.

Data from the CDC show Michigan as having a relatively low incidence rate of TB - 184 cases in 2010 (or 1.9 per 100,000 people). That compares to 11,182 cases nationwide (or 3.6 per 100,00o).

U.S. rates, which have declined steadily for the past 20 years, are dwarfed by the roughly 9 million global cases  in 2010 estimated by the World Health Organization.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Michigan Department of Corrections

 The Michigan American Civil Liberties Union is criticizing Michigan’s only women’s prison for conducting invasive strip searches.

The ACLU says the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility uses invasive body cavity searches after family visits, whether or not they believe a woman is hiding contraband.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled law enforcement officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense before admitting them to jails.

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In terms of hotspots for giant, bipedal ape-men, Michigan might not come to mind, especially compared to states in the Pacific Northwest. But the mitten state is not without its share of alleged Bigfoot sightings.

According to the Detroit News, some high-profile Bigfoot hunters are paying visit to Michigan with camera crew in tow, hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive cryptid.

From the News:

Producers from the Animal Planet TV program "Finding Bigfoot" have been filming in the Houghton Lake area this week, looking for signs of Sasquatch.

Phil Shaw, a member of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, said there have been more than 130 Bigfoot sightings in almost every county in Michigan.

The episode including the Michigan investigation is set to air sometime this summer, the Detroit News reports.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

user BrokenSphere / wikimedia commons

The average fuel economy of new vehicles sold in the US reached an all-time high last month.

That's according to a recently-released report from the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute.

A U of M press release has more:

Average fuel economy (window-sticker values) of cars, light trucks, minivans and SUVs purchased in March was 24.1 mpg, up from 23.9 in February and 23.6 in January, and now 20 percent (4 mpg) higher than October 2007, the first month of monitoring by UMTRI researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle.

The Detroit News reports that US automakers have also noticed this trend:

General Motors Co. said last week that its 12 vehicles getting 30 mpg or better on the highway had combined U.S. sales of about 100,000 for March — the automaker's highest ever monthly total.

"Three years ago, about 16 percent of the vehicles GM sold achieved at least 30 mpg on the highway. Today, that number is about 40 percent," said GM North America President Mark Reuss.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Photo courtesy of Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station

by Bob Allen for The Environment Report

A hard freeze has wiped out a big portion of the cherry crop in Northwest Michigan this spring.  The area produces more than half the state’s cherries that end up in desserts, juice and as dried fruit.

An historic early warm-up in March left fruit trees vulnerable to frost once the weather turned cooler again.

Temperatures broke records for the month of March across the Great Lakes region.

Climate researchers say there’s never been anything like it going back more than a hundred years.

“We’re seeing history made before our eyes at least in terms of climatology.”

Jeff Andresen is the state’s climatologist and professor of geography at Michigan State.

“And in some ways if we look at where our vegetation is and how advanced it is, it’s probably a month ahead of where it typically is.”

Andresen is careful to point out that this year’s early warm-up is an extreme weather event.

He says it far outpaces the previous warmest March on record in 1945.

He can’t say it’s a direct result of climate change.

But it fits the predicted long term pattern of change that includes extreme fluctuations.

screencap of Michigan's current surface winds / hint.fm/wind/index.html

Looking for a strong visual argument for the untapped potential of wind power in the Great Lakes? Wondering why it's been rather blustery the last few days?

NPR science correspondent and Radiolab co-host Robert Krulwich might have found just the thing you're looking for (or at least something guaranteed to keep you mesmerized by your internet browser for a while).

NSO YIP Facebook page

Two community activists from Detroit have been honored by the White House as "Champions of Change" for their work against youth violence in the city.

According to the White House, Detroit's Frank McGhee and De Quan O'Neal were among 12 community leaders from across the nation recognized for their "work to prevent youth violence within their communities as part of the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention..., a network of communities and federal agencies working together to share information and build local capacity to...keep our kids safe."

WXYZ's Detroit 2020 project congratulated the honorees, describing their work:

McGhee mentors and coaches young leaders to educate their peers about violence in Detroit. He’s the program director for the Detroit-Based Neighborhood Service Organization’s Youth Initiative Project.

O’Neal is a program youth director [with the Youth Initiative Project]. He helped discourage gun violence and gunfire on New Year’s Eve.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Bob Vigiletti / Michigan Radio Picture Project

In 2009, Michigan hosted its last state fair after 161 years.

It was the second oldest in the country. But the event was losing too much money. Between 1970 and 1995, the fair lost on average 2 million dollars a year. Attendance was down 39 percent over the final eight years. In 2009, Governor Granholm ended all state financing.

Since then, not much has happened with the Fairgrounds. On Monday, Governor Snyder will sign bills which will authorize the state to sell the property. The 157 acre property is located just south of Woodward Avenue. Any money made from the sale of the Fairgrounds will be added to the state’s general fund.

screengrab from Ellen DeGeneres

An Ann Arbor-area teen took on the MPAA and won.

Bob Needham from AnnArbor.com writes that earlier this year, high-schooler Katy Butler started an online petition urging the Motion Picture Association of America to change its rating of the forthcoming documentary "Bully" from R to PG-13. Butler gathered over half a million signatures in hopes of making the film accessible to younger viewers, Needham says, and now it appears she has achieved her goal.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The Michigan Supreme Court has heard oral arguments in a case that questions the constitutionality of a Michigan State University ordinance.  

In 2008,  MSU law student Jared Rapp received a parking ticket on campus.  Rapp reportedly yelled at the parking attendant, took his photo and demanded his name. 

The question arises as to whether MSU’s ordinance prohibiting anyone from disrupting a university employee’s official business is too broad, and whether it infringed upon Rapp’s right of free speech. 

Jonathan Alexander / Facebook

Members of Generation Y---those Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s who are currently in college or cutting their teeth in the working world---have received their share of scrutiny in recent years. But where their parents might be discussed in terms of day-glo paint and ideological revolution, Gen Y-ers tends to garner attention for their inseparable relationship with technology and their bad timing, starting their adult lives in America's worst economic climate since the Great Depression.

Going Nowhere?

Last month, the New York Times ran an op-ed piece co-written by economist Todd Buchholz and his daughter Victoria, a student at Cambridge University. It bore the headline “The Go-Nowhere Generation” and in it the Buchholzs argued that unlike previous generations, Generation Y has "become risk-averse and sedentary," unwilling to leave home in search of "sunnier economic climes."

user Mariordo / wikimedia commons

GM is planning to extend a production slowdown for its extended-range electric car, the Chevy Volt.

Last month, Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton reported that GM was halting production of the Volt for five weeks in March and April to reduce inventory, in part because of lower-than-anticipated demand.

Samilton wrote:

The car has been highly praised, but it’s expensive.  Even with a $7,500 federal rebate, the Volt still costs about $32,000.  Meanwhile, people can buy a highly fuel-efficient regular car for much less – including GM’s own Chevy Cruze, which costs about $19,000.

Additionally, the Volt facility was scheduled to be shut down for two weeks in July---a common practice for car factories---but GM has now extended that period to three weeks, again citing a need to reduce inventory.

But according to the Associated Press, "a spokeswoman says the company sold a record number of the electric cars in March and may cancel the extra week if strong sales continue."

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

user mike73/morguefile

Lilies are popular home decorations this time of year. But the plants are highly toxic to cats.

Ingesting any part of a lily can cause kidney failure in cats, and can be fatal without emergency treatment.

Symptoms include vomiting, lethargy, and a lack of appetite.

Dr. Jennifer Aschenbrener is a veterinarian with Irwin Avenue Animal Hospital in Albion. She says it’s important to contact your veterinarian immediately if you think your cat has eaten part of a lily.

"They will most likely have you try to get induced emesis, which is vomiting, which also can be done at the vet clinic. Basically the biggest thing is to get the lily out of the system," she says. "Without treatment, and sometimes even with treatment, it can be fatal. So it’s very serious."

That’s not the only harmful Easter tradition. Local animal advocates are warning against giving bunnies, chicks, and ducks as presents. Many of the animals end up in shelters once the novelty wears off. 

-Alex Markel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Photo by Lester Graham/Michigan Radio

by Peter Payette for The Environment Report

The people who manage salmon in Lake Michigan will have to decide soon how many fish to put into the lake.  The salmon fishery is a manmade industry in the Great Lakes.  It’s produced by planting millions and millions of fish in the lakes.  But keeping the salmon population in balance with the food supply is a challenge these days.  And some scientists are raising new questions about the salmon’s demise in Lake Huron and whether that can be stopped in Lake Michigan.  

Salmon were brought in from the Pacific Ocean.

user Alex simple / wikimedia commons

Lou Schimmel, Pontiac's state-appointed Emergency Manager, has denied a tax-break request from the owners of the Pontiac Silverdome.

The former home of the Detroit Lions is owned by Triple Investment Group who were seeking a special break to make improvements to the stadium, but as the Associated Press reports, the work they were planning wasn't what Schimmel had in mind:

More than two hundred people gathered today in front of Ann Arbor's Federal Building. They were protesting a recent federal mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services that requires all employer healthcare plans to provide contraceptive services.

Seven similar rallies were also held in Michigan, along with more than 100 others across the country organized by Catholic pro-life groups.

Christen Houck is a student at the University of Michigan.

"This mandate is unconstitutional based on the fact that it goes against people's religious consciences," she says. "That's something that we really need to protect. I do not think this is an issue about contraception, but it's really about religious freedom."

Twenty-eight states, including Michigan, already require coverage of contraceptives in employer healthcare plans. Michigan’s law includes a broad religious exemption.

-Alex Markel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Michigan’s governor and legislative members are not subject to state open-records law, but Democrats in the State Senate are trying to change that.

Gretchen Whitmer is the Democratic Senate leader. She thinks requiring compliance with the Freedom of Information Act is an important step towards promoting honesty from elected officials.

"We’ve got a lot of work to do in terms of ensuring ethical conduct by people in the legislature and setting a standard that’s very clear, and a system that is transparent," says Whitmer.

Her request comes a few days after emails were released by the Oakland County Democratic Party, which suggest the county’s redistricting process was motivated by partisan goals.

Legislation attempting to lift this thirty-six year old exemption is not new. It has been introduced several times before, most recently in the 2009 term. At that time, it was sponsored primarily by Republican representatives, who were in the minority.

-Alex Markel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Andrew Jameson / wikimedia commons

The University of Michigan Law School hosted a panel on life sentences for juveniles on Monday.  

In Michigan, a first-degree murder conviction results in an automatic life sentence for anyone 14 or older. There are currently 359 people in the state serving life without parole for crimes committed as minors. Michigan is one of 11 states with this type of law.

Austin Land works at a law firm that focuses on these kind of cases. He says these convictions are a human rights violation, because children are not able to fully participate in the adult criminal system. 

"Children have adolescent brains, they are risk-prone, and they lack adult faculties of judgment," Land said . "This all affects their ability to participate in their own defense, their ability to plea bargain."

On Tuesday, the US Supreme Court heard arguments for a pair of cases involving men who were fourteen when they were sentenced to life in prison without parole. Defendants claim this violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on ‘cruel and unusual punishment. ’ 

-Alex Markel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Ansgar Walk / wikimedia commons

It may feel like it's already summer outside but that didn't stop a little piece of the arctic from visiting central Michigan.

After several days of sightings in and around  the town of Portland, just northwest of Lansing,  local authorities captured a loose arctic fox as he woke from a nap on a baseball diamond.

The fox's origin is unclear but aside from being about 1,000 miles south of its natural habitat, local law enforcement believes it must have been  a domesticated pet based on its friendly demeanor, the Lansing State Journal writes.

From the LSJ's Tom Thelen:

“We were receiving calls about it for about a week,” said Portland police chief Bob Bauer. “People were seeing at in various parts of the city...We believe that it either escaped or was turned loose,” said Bauer. “It was not afraid of anyone. In fact, it would coming running out to people and some of them were scared by the way it ran up to them.”

Thelen reports that authorities found an owner of another arctic fox in nearby Lake Odessa who agreed to care for the captured animal.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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The number of Americans who believe in global warming is once again on the rise, moving from 58 percent in 2010 to 62 percent last year.

That's according to survey results released last month by U of M's Ford School of Public Policy. The survey, conducted in conjunction with the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion and published by the Brookings Institute, shows that a higher percentage of Americans accepted the science of climate change in 2011 than anytime since the fall of 2009.

Tim Anderson/instructables.com

If you're anything like the folks here at Michigan Radio, the recent (and ongoing) spate of unseasonably warm weather through much of the state has probably inspired you to run from the radio station screaming and throwing off layers spend more time outdoors.

Andrew Bardwell / wikimedia commons

Michigan has one of the country's highest numbers of "juvenile lifers"---prisoners sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for crimes committed as minors---359 total.

That includes six who were only 14 when they committed their crimes.

These numbers come from an in-depth report from John Barnes at MLive.com.

Barnes profiled those six, including TJ Tremble, who has spent half his life, 14 years, in a state prison following a murder conviction. Tremble has no hope of release because of a mandatory life sentence.

Now, for the youngest of young offenders at least, there could be a path toward release. That's because of a pair of upcoming U.S. Supreme Court cases involving young offenders.

Photo by Bob Allen/Interlochen Public Radio

by Bob Allen for The Environment Report

Big wind farms generate not just power but a lot of controversy. There’s been quite a debate in northern Michigan recently about the effects on safety, health, property values and the landscape. Smaller scale projects called community wind are designed to avoid those criticisms. But there are still roadblocks.

Northport is a picturesque village that sits near the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula. For the past two years, a group of residents there, mostly retirees, has been working to put up one small wind turbine.

Doug McInnis says the opportunity just about fell into their laps.

“There was this unique spot. There was a hill. And it’s near right where you want to put the energy. We’re right near a substation. I mean all these things come together and it just says, hey, this is a natural.”

The village owns the hill that rises just behind its new sewage treatment plant. From the hilltop, the turbine will supply half the electricity for the plant. It will be a fraction of the size of new commercial turbines.

State maps show that Leelanau Township has the best sites for wind energy in the Lower Peninsula.

McInnis says the group wants to do something now that will benefit their community for years to come.

“People are concerned about the future generations. And if we don’t start thinking and moving in other directions I don’t know what’s going to happen. It ain’t gonna be good.”

user Dnd523 / wikimedia commons

The University of Michigan has announced the speaker for its Ann Arbor commencement ceremony next month.

According to a press release from the university, graduates will hear an address from Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the chief medical correspondent at CNN, a practicing surgeon, and a UM alumnus who was raised in Novi.

The U of M press release describes Gupta as:

user cseeman / Flickr

Plans are underway for a natural gas company to construct a pipeline under the St. Clair River into Canada, stretching some 1,500 feet.

More from the Associated Press:

"A bike path in Marysville will be closed to the public as Bluewater Gas Storage LLC conducts the work. The project is expected to last about a month. The bike path will be used as a staging area, rather than using people's yards or driveways."

A group of students at the University of Michigan want to make higher education more accessible for undocumented Michigan residents.

Freshman Daniel Morales recently petitioned the U of M Board of Regents for policy changes that would allow undocumented immigrants who graduate from Michigan high schools to pay in-state tuition.

Morales was an undocumented resident when he was first accepted to U of M.

He was told he would have to pay international tuition despite growing up in Michigan. He was also not allowed to apply for financial aid. Morales says that U of M's tuition policies are unjust.

"This is a civil rights fight in which we are restraining a certain population fo our community because of something that is not within their control. What they can control is how they do in school, and these are students who are getting into one of the most competitive universities."

Federal law guarantees undocumented students access to public education from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

Universities set their own tuition policies.

Western Michigan University already charges in-state tuition for undocumented Michigan students.

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