March Madness Odds and Ends

April 2, 2008

Justin Story

Between the game-watching parties I covered and the reporting about the potential windfall to hit WKU after its recently completed Sweet Sixteen run, I feel as though I took on the “March Madness” beat during this year’s NCAA Tournament, talking to John and Jane Public as well as Jim McDaniels, WKU’s All-American from the 1971 Final Four team.

Of course, the news out of Hilltopper country has moved at a rapid pace since the season ended, with Darrin Horn leaving to coach at South Carolina.

Discussions I’ve had with people inside and outside the newsroom revolve around whether this was a good move for Horn.

My input, for what it’s worth — you may as well strike while the iron is hot. A team with several talented seniors who played well together caught lightning in a bottle, and Horn’s path to Columbia also included a stop on the coaching staff of the 2003 Marquette team that played in the Final Four, so there’s little doubt Horn has the ability to improve South Carolina’s position in the SEC.

I respect the argument for building a tradition of winning at WKU before striking out for the proverbial greener pasture (becoming a much more valuable commodity to major colleges with coaching vacancies in the process). After all, South Carolina cannot command the attention of the upper echelon of the coaching pool – at least not in the way Kentucky, Kansas or Indiana can.

Even so, the opportunity to improve on what personal success you’ve already built should seldom, if ever, be bypassed. If South Carolina presents the best opportunity for Horn to continue building on his record, so be it.

Now, some final tidbits and stories during WKU’s run that caught my attention:

— The New York Times had a great feature recently spotlighting the Hilltoppers pioneering spirit on the court when it came to integration. Actively recruiting and giving extensive playing time to black players in an era and part of the country where major schools resisted integrating their basketball teams into the 1970s in some cases should be recognized.

— UCLA legend and the NBA’s all-time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar posted a blog on the Los Angeles Times’ Web site that is also highly complimentary toward WKU’s history.

— Here’s a commentary on Bloomberg.com that places WKU’s recent tourney run alongside George Mason’s 2006 Final Four and Gonzaga’s emergence as a tourney mainstay. This was written before Horn’s departure, but the short-term gains are still sure to be realized and the opportunity is there for the basketball team to carve out a similar niche to these other so-called “mid-major programs.”

— Finally, we in the newsroom are well aware of the fast-traveling rumors connecting Bobby Knight with the now-vacant coaching position.

As it turns out, perhaps not surprisingly, the Indiana University discussion board hosted by Rivals.com is also addressing this subject.

Please take whatever you may read on this board with the appropriate amount of salt.

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Madness at Double Dogs

March 21, 2008

Justin Story

If this post doesn’t garner many views over the next day or two, I won’t blame anybody.

Everyone with a rooting (or passing, or even negligible) interest will be riveted to their TVs for the NCAA Tournament that opens today, and I include myself among them.

Instead of skipping out on work to do so, I’ll be joining WKU’s Warren County Alumni Chapter this Friday at Double Dogs on Scottsville Road to watch the Toppers take on Missouri Valley Conference upstart Drake in the first round.

This will likely go down in history as one of the most enjoyable assignments it has been my privilege to receive. Getting paid to watch the tournament? In years past, the tournament has been a money-losing venture for me, so this will be a great reversal.

It’s going to be interesting to see the collective mood swings of the crowd throughout what should be a competitive matchup. I should disclose that my principal sporting allegiance is with UK, but one tournament memory that sticks out is following Western’s march to the Sweet 16 in 1993. It was fascinating to watch my mom, a Western alumna but not the biggest sports enthusiast, hang on every shot, rebound and loose ball during the Hilltoppers’ wins over then-Memphis State and Seton Hall and overtime loss to Florida State that year.

The impact of March Madness on offices nationwide is well-documented. Even so, one is nearly tempted to consider the tourney a no-lose proposition in the white-collar world — office pools inevitably bring co-workers closer together, college towns nationwide morph into self-contained carnivals and the tournament has the singular quality of turning complete strangers with divergent backgrounds into best friends, all because of a mutual interest in seeing a particular first-round upset take shape.

Unfortunately, the best teams in college are so top-heavy this year that I don’t predict very many upsets in the early rounds. I will say, though, that WKU appears to have a favorable draw this year that may land them in the tournament’s second weekend.

What plans do you have for the tournament? How much of a difference is there in the daily life of Bowling Green when WKU is involved in March Madness?


Fake Social Security cards – $150. Business sense – Priceless

March 10, 2008

 

A fake ID card 

 

 

The recent indictment of a Bowling Green man who faces federal prison and deportation for making fake Social Security cards and IDs, offers a quick lesson in supply and demand. 

 

According to U.S. Western District Attorney David Huber, 24-year old Rosendo Mendoza-Rodriguez, also known as Rogelio Villalon, of 1130 Roselawn Way produced was sentenced in u.s. district court on March 5 for selling and making the fake cards. 

 

What is interesting is that he was able to sell them for $150 a set — anything sold for that much garners importance and shows desperation. 

 

Armed with a make-shift trailer that had a laminating machine, printer, and other items, Rodriguez and conspirator Olegario Gregorio took pictures for the IDs at a house on Durbin Street and then drove to a trailer on Russellville Road to make and sell the fake cards — I bet you never thought such transactions could take place in Bowling Green. But open your eyes — the delicate immigration issues America faces is reflected throughout the Bowling Green community in unlikely places. 

 

The lengths that some will go to in order to pose as an American citizen speak to the struggles of more than 11 million illegal immigrants estimated by the Pew Hispanic Center and the U.S. Census Bureau to live in the U.S. 

 

But who needs documents when you have ITINS? Known as an Individual Tax Identification Number, or ITIN, the number is issued by the Internal Revenue Service for certain resident and non-resident immigrants, their spouses and their dependents who are not eligible to obtain a Social Security card, according to the IRS. 

 

Illegal immigrants are already taking part of nearly every aspect of the American economy, paying rent and utilities, using cell phones, buying cars, meals, clothes and haircuts, sending mail and money transfers, paying local attorneys for immigration work and divorces, and eating at local restaurants – all of which add to the goods and services consumed. With ITINS, they are buying houses and obtaining life insurance. 

 

No matter where you stand on the issue, Rosendo Mendoza-Rodriguez’s business sense highlights a complicated issue in America when it comes to undocumented workers and illegal immigrants.

 

Rodriguez will serve a year and three months in federal prison. Rodriguez was indicted on similar charges in eastern Kentucky after being arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigations last March. Gregorio also pled guilty to similar charges and was sentenced last year to a year and three months in federal prison. 


Your word is…

February 27, 2008

Justin Story

Community Education’s Spell-a-Bration, held last night at the Knights of Columbus Hall, provided my two teammates and I with plenty of entertainment one doesn’t normally associate with spelling bees.

Maybe it was the costumes that most of the 23 participating teams – and their ardent supporters – wore that made the event less of a test of nerves and intellect and more of a scene from the old game show “Let’s Make A Deal”, but the Spell-a-Bration ranks up there among my favorite spelling bees in which I’ve participated.

Yes, I spent my awkward teenage years on the spelling bee circuit, reaching the pinnacle with a 21st place finish in the 1994 National Spelling Bee. So, finding myself on stage reciting letters before a judge and a rapt audience very nearly constitutes my natural habitat.

You may ask whether the Daily News hired me simply for use as a ringer for this year’s Spell-a-Bration.

The answer, in a word: no.

I’m fairly certain no one on our team (City Editor Wes Swietek, Business reporter Ameerah Cetawayo and myself) studied very much beforehand, and we didn’t win, which I see as the purpose of a ringer.

Instead, The Headliners finished in third place, knocked out by a National Spelling Bee-caliber word:

Graupel.

Honestly, when the other teams were taking their turns at the microphone, we were mostly incredulous that they were getting words we believed were easy.

So, I suppose it was only fitting that we were tripped up by a word we were hearing for the first time in our lives.

That word, again, being graupel:

graupel, a noun meaning a kind of precipitation consisting of brittle, white ice particles having a snowlike structure; soft hail.

Webster’s New World Collegiate Dictionary, Fourth Edition

Seriously, graupel.

I could watch the Weather Channel for the rest of my life and never come across a meteorologist issuing a graupel advisory.

In all, though, many thanks to Community Education and Hills Pet Nutrition for allowing us to take part in what proved to be a fun event that if not for the costumes, would have been way more intense.

In case you’re curious, the word that knocked me out in the National Spelling Bee was fauldstool – excuse me, faldstool.


Countryside in the Spotlight

February 8, 2008

Justin Story

Wednesday night’s screening of the 2000 documentary “Stranger With a Camera” at WKU and the subsequent question-and-answer session with the film’s creator, Elizabeth Barret, touched on a host of issues near and dear to how we in the media approach this profession.

Barret said the documentary used the story of the 1967 murder of Canadian filmmaker Hugh O’Connor while he was filming a shack in Letcher County as a jumping-off point to discuss further the obligations that filmmaker, or journalists in general, have toward depicting the subjects they cover.

Included in the documentary alongside interviews with subjects close to Hobart Ison’s shooting of O’Connor were reams of archival footage of eastern Kentucky shot by filmmakers and TV news crews in the 1960s (including most of a 1964 piece by Charles Kuralt, the late CBS News reporter famous for his “On The Road” series)

Much of this footage shows subjects who were especially sensitive about how the fact of their poverty would come off in the national spotlight.

I’ve lost count of how many times people I have interviewed for various stories have told me to make them sound good. I realize where they’re coming from; they are opening themselves up in a rather public forum by speaking to me and expressing an understandable concern. My approach, though, has been the same from the beginning – the best way that I can portray the people I cover and interview is to present them to the public as similarly as they presented themselves to me.

This is a similar challenge that Barret said she faces in her work, though her challenge is arguably enhanced since she works in visual media, with images that are more likely to persist past the initial viewing.

I spoke with Barret briefly after the screening, talking with her about how much the media landscape has changed since the 1960s, when it seemed Appalachia was inundated with TV news reporters, filmmakers and politicians trying to understand and document the plight of the poor coal miners of eastern Kentucky.

Since then, of course, our culture of information has accelerated greatly; there are so many more outlets to receive and disseminate information with the advent of cable TV news, and the many online file-sharing communities have fostered more connections among people to the outside world at large.

Really, with the Internet at one’s disposal, anyone could conceivably become a documentarian and obtain an audience.

I asked Barret if she approached her work from that perspective, as though her presentation of the people and region she films is in competition with who knows how many other presentations.

She said she did, which is not surprising given the thoughtful approach to the people she interviewed in the film. Barret added that the proliferation of more media in the past several years has its benefits and drawbacks.

It’s beneficial in the way in which more people are able to report and document honestly the conditions of a place and time and are able to present that to a broad audience.

Of course, one of the main drawbacks is one that has seemed to plague Appalachia since the dawn of news reporting: the underlying fear that no matter what, the people of rural eastern Kentucky will be presented as gun-toting, overall-wearing rubes and objects of ridicule to a laughing public.

“The Beverly Hillbillies” went off the air in 1971, but that image of a simple mountain family thrust into what some may condescendingly call “modern civilization” persists. Most people know what I mean when I talk about Jed Clampett going from shootin’ at some food to making sense of his new “cement pond.”

In fact, Barret said the new media landscape opened up the possibility of what she termed one of the most cynical attempts to present rural America to the public — The Real Beverly Hillbillies.

This attempt to throw a real-life rural family into affluence was stopped from airing thanks in large part to a campaign of several individuals and groups acting on behalf of rural America.

That in itself may be the most significant indicator of our present media landscape — eastern Kentuckians and other rural folks who are wary of being dogged by the spotlight now have people acting in their interest in ways that they didn’t when camera crews in the 1960s first arrived in the region to ensure fair treatment.


MOVIES: The Oscar Race is on

January 23, 2008

One of my favorite mornings of the year is the day when Academy Award nominations are announced. I’m always fascinated to see how months of speculation can be confirmed or destroyed in a matter of minutes.

Tuesday morning’s nominations proved to be more of the latter, with the announcements going pretty much as expected. I correctly called 24 out of the 30 nominees in the six major categories , with half of those nominees really not surprising me that much.

Here are my initial reactions to the announcements. I will save my actual picks for my usual Thursday column the week of the Oscar ceremonies on Feb. 24.

I’m really pleased with the overall strength of the best picture nominees. I think ‘No Country For Old Men,’ ‘There Will Be Blood,’ and ‘Juno’ are the top 3 films of 2007 and ‘Michael Clayton’ isn’t too far behind. ‘Atonement’ is probably the only movie I couldn’t make a case for and it was still pretty good. I’m also very happy to see Paul Thomas Anderson finally get a directing nomination and I am elated over the inclusion of a song from ‘Once’ in the best original song category.

The biggest surprises had to be Tommy Lee Jones’ nomination for ‘In The Valley of Elah’ and Laura Linney (for ‘The Savages’) and Cate Blanchett (for ‘Elizabeth’) finding their way into the best actress race. Jones was good in an underrated (and underseen) film and I’ve always been a fan of Linney, so I can live with those.

Blanchett, however, should not have been nominated for a movie that was bad melodrama at best. Why not reward someone like Angelina Jolie (who gave her best work to date in ‘A Mighty Heart’) or Amy Adams (absolutely delightful in ‘Enchanted’) instead. Blanchett’s nomination, along with the inclusion of ‘Surf’s Up’ in the best animated feature are probably the two-least deserving of all.


I’ll meet deadline if you provide the lifeline

January 18, 2008

Justin Story

It happens more often than we’d like:

One of us in the newsroom gets a call about an event, something with large turnout, maybe even a famous guest speaker, probably a great chance for a photographer to snap some colorful pictures.

Me: “Sounds great! I’m definitely interested in covering this; tell me when it’s happening.”

Caller: “It’s starting in 10 minutes.”

Me: (Frantically shuffling papers, practically realigning the planets to make this event fit into my packed schedule) “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

To the outsider, it seems one of the lasting characteristics of the news industry, regardless of medium, is that its reporters are there when the story happens.

What gets lost in the wave of advertisements touting this or that news agency as “first on the scene” is that a great deal of our reporting is the end product of ample, careful planning.

Consider this paragraph a public service announcement: If you are organizing, or know of someone scheduling an event that you feel is newsworthy, let us know at least a couple days in advance. Doing that enables the reporter to obtain some additional background on the event in question, so that by the time he gets to the event, he will know what to expect and will have a broader knowledge base from which to ask additional questions, resulting in a more in-depth story. A couple days’ lead time also allows editors to make their news judgment about the event (i.e., where in the newspaper the story should appear.)

Granted, it won’t be possible to do this with every story; I can’t reasonably expect someone to call me to tip me off about a 15-car pileup happening next Tuesday on I-65. Besides, if the pileup does happen, then the story is less about the accident itself than my source’s amazing powers of clairvoyance.

As reporters, we try to be everywhere for everybody, but there’s no way in the world for us to do this without the help of you out there to let us know what’s happening. In any case, if you know that something newsworthy is happening next week, let us know well in advance — a much better story will come out of it if you take this step, I assure you.