GretaCarroll: October 2009 Archives

You Better Have an Explanation

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From Robert  J. Haiman’s Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists:

“’Connectedness’ has become one of the buzzwords of the national effort to restore credibility.  One way to connect with a public that says it feels distanced from it newspapers is to explain to the public what the newspaper does and why” (41). 

Giving an explanation to the public about why newspapers do what they do seems both practical and useful.  First off, as Haiman highlights, many people do not understand journalistic practices.  They may too quickly condemn something the newspaper does without understanding why.  It will help the public better understand and through the understanding feel more connected to and more trusting of the news media.  On another level, it will also force journalists to carefully evaluate their actions.  If they are required to explain why they do or do not do something, they will be more likely to carefully consider what they print.  Therefore, not only would journalists be forced to consider their decisions more closely, but the public would understand as well.  It reminds me of in creative writing or as Dr. Jerz was explaining about using “said” in class, you have to have a good reason and explanation for what you do.  It’s not arbitrary; there is reasoning behind your choices.  My only concern was how you would go about doing this in a newspaper, but Haiman addresses this by given an example of what The Arizona Republic does.  They have a separate daily column in their paper with explanations.  I definitely think this is a practice which would benefit journalists and readers alike.

Read more on Haiman.

Avoiding an Unpleasant Surprise

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On her blog, Wendy created an interesting analogy between anonymous quotes and sandwiches.  She explained, “anonymous quotes are like a mystery to what your mom puts in your lunch bag.”  This made me relate unsourced quotes to my own experience in my high school’s cafeteria.  At least once every other week, “the signature entrĂ©e” (as they called whatever was in the hot lunch line) was “tuna surprise.”  There was always endless speculation as to what the “surprise” was…however, since the “surprise” was a mystery and no student ever managed to drag out of a lunch lady what the “surprise” was, the general consensus was that the safest policy was to steer away from “tuna surprise.”

Relating this to journalism, your anonymous source is like the “surprise.” Since I didn’t know what else was with the tuna, I distrusted it and did not eat it.  In a similar fashion, readers will distrust an unnamed source.  Furthermore, the practice of avoiding the “tuna surprise” can also apply to avoiding using anonymous sources.  For just as we feared discovering the “surprise” too late, you don’t want to find out your source is unreliable after your article has been printed and read by thousands of people.  So unless you want to risk an unpleasant “surprise,” do your best to find something better to eat (or, in other words, do your best to find someone who is willing to be named). 

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“Getting It Right”

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From Robert  J. Haiman’s Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists:

“Veteran San Jose Mercury News reporters Pete Carey and Mike Antonucci have been reading stories or parts of stories back to sources for years ‘in the interest of getting it right.’  Says Carey: ‘If I’m quoting someone, I want them to pick up the paper in the morning and say, ‘Yeah, that is exactly how I feel about it’” (27). 

I found this to be a shocking idea.  I honestly never even considered sharing a draft or passage of an article with an expert.  However, I think it is an excellent idea.  As this reading stressed, many times in the journalism field, reporters are called upon to report on things they may not know a lot about.  They should do their best to research ahead of time on the internet and to take classes which will help prepare them, but what better way to ensure accuracy than to ask an expert to look it over.  Furthermore, not only will this safeguard the accuracy of the story, it will also make sure your source is satisfied that you expressed his or her opinion correctly.  This could go a long way towards increasing his or her trust of your newspaper and make them more willing to help you in the future.  I don’t think it would be realistic or time efficient to read him or her a whole article, but having the source look over a specific passage seems like a great way of “getting it right.” 

Read more on Haiman. 

Checking on the Facts: Fake Swine Flu Alert

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Here’s just another example of the importance of making sure you have all the facts straight.  As of Monday night, I was hearing rumors about there being swine flu on campus.  I was incredulous at first.  There was no cold, hard fact to base these reports on.  When I got up the next morning, I had a campus-wide e-mail about swine flu care and prevention.  Later on in the day, I saw a channel 4 camera man videotaping on campus.  It seemed like all the evidence was pointing towards a swine flu case.  However, as was reported later, none of this was true.  You can read the WTAE article about the real events here.  However, I think this is just another lesson about the importance of making sure you have the facts straight before you write or assume anything.  Reporters may get interested in some story because of a tip someone might have given them, but just because you got a tip (or events seem to point towards something) does not mean it’s true.  As Dr. Jerz says, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out” and “Verify or duck.”

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Josie on her blog challenged the assertion that change should start with the editor.  While I definitely agree with her highlighting that journalists must accept responsibility for their article and the mistakes they may make, I still felt that to some degree the high standards have to start at the top and work down.  If the editor is going to let the reporters get away with low-quality articles, some of them probably will.  It takes less effort after all.  

In considering acceptance of responsibility, I considered it in terms of a student-teacher relationship.  If the teacher doesn’t demand a lot, chances are the student is not going to try as hard.  If the student can get away with little effort and mediocrity, they probably will.  However, if the teacher’s expectations are higher and the student must work really hard to get a good grade, the student will.

 So in other words, high quality demands must start at the top.  Yes, there are exceptions.  There are some students and some journalists, who will work hard no matter what anyone else asks of them, but that is not always the case, and even these dedicated workers will work harder and strive for better work if pushed.  While it is very important for individual journalists to aspire for their best possible work, I think it is important for the higher up’s not to have complacent attitudes either.   

Read more on Haiman.  

The Rough Road to Respect—Admitting One’s Errors

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From Robert J. Haiman’s Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists:

“But the public sees it quite another way.  They say they understand that reporters have to work very hard and fast under pressure, and they acknowledge that is not a system likely to produce perfection…But they do not believe this should exempt the newspaper from cleaning up its messes promptly and fully” (13).

I think a lot of what Haiman writes seemed simply like common sense to me.  But, then again, since I have also been and viewed myself as a member of the public and not as a journalist until this class, perhaps it is easier for me to perceive what would annoy the public more than someone who has been a news writer for 20 years. 

I chose the quote above because of how true it is.  I have always respected journalists for the job they have to do.  I doubt many people would claim that being a journalist is easy.  I have said myself several times that I would not want to be a journalist because it would stress me out too much.  Too much is simply out of one’s control for me to wish to do it as a career.  However, no matter how stressful a job is people should and do have to take responsibility for their actions and mistakes.  I am seeking a teaching certification and in the education field we call it accountability.  If we don’t take responsibility for what we do and try to learn and change from our mistakes, we will simply perpetuate ineffective practices and mistakes.

I also think it makes sense that the public would prefer and have greater respect for the newspapers that own up to their errors.  It may be slightly embarrassing, but it does make the newspaper more reliable.  Who do you want to trust, someone who tries to sweep misinformation under the rug or someone who admits it and learns from it?  Admitting you’re wrong is never easy, but you will gain more respect by doing so, both in life and in the news world. 

Read more on Haiman. 

When we first got the localized news article assignment, I didn’t really see a difference between it and the spot news article.  However, in writing my own localized news article, the distinctions between the two became very clear.  They both have the same ultimate goal, but that goal is achieved in two opposite ways.  In a spot news article, you go to a specific event.  The lens is zoomed in on one specific thing and then you zoom out to the big picture, making the event seem more universal.  The localized news article begins with the big picture and your job as a reporter is to zoom it in closer and closer until it becomes relatable to your paper’s reader.  You’re trying to make the topic universal enough that it speaks to your local readership.  So in both cases, the real goal is universality.

As I was reading through the headlines on CNN under the world section, I stumbled across an article headlined “Fast Internet access becomes a legal right in Finland.”  This made me curious; I doubled clicked on the hyperlink which would take me to the full text.  To sum up the article very briefly for those who may not wish to read the whole thing (which by the way, it’s not very long):  Finland announced that broadband Internet is now a legal right.  This will require telecommunication companies to provide all people in the country with an Internet connection.  They have ruled that the connection must be at least one-megabit per second with the hopes of increasing the speed later.       

When I finished reading the article, my first reaction was how great this idea seemed to me.  I remember (as many probably do), the old days when you would have to sit patiently listening to your computer make those strange (and mildly annoying) noises as it “dialed-up” to the Internet.  Once connected, the Web pages loaded slowly and you always had to worry about whether someone might call your phone line while you were on-line.  With these unpleasant past memories rekindled in my mind, I could not help but agree that everyone should have a right to Internet (and not just any Internet, but reasonably fast Internet).

I could see how fast Internet could be seen to provide an unfair advantage to those who had it.  The person would be much more likely to be able to do Internet research instead of relying on (sometimes) outdated books.  It provides a quick and easy way to search for jobs, find answers to questions, and connect with other people.  If we wish to work towards an ideal world, why not make sure everyone has access to fast Internet?

This is where I made my first mistake.  I allowed myself to form an opinion.  As I considered angles with which I could approach my story, they were all tempered by my viewpoint.  I intended to write an article painting Finland as an advanced country, moving in the right direction.  I decided I would interview some unfortunates who had slow Internet about the undue hardship Internet caused and that would be my article. 

However, as I interviewed and discussed my topic with other people, I began to perceive my error.  As I talked to different people who had varying opinions on the matter, my eyes opened wide to the multi-faceted nature of the subject I had chosen.  Originally, I was unable to see past the benefits of having fast Internet.  After all, who would argue that fast Internet is bad?  However, there was a lot more going on here than just Internet access being good.

My article took place in Finland, I was groping a bit for whom to interview.  Unlike the spot article, my story was not local at all.  I had no previous knowledge base.  Furthermore, I am no expert on the Internet or computers.  I know enough to do what I need to do and that’s about it.  I had thrust myself into the realms of danger which real reporters face everyday—reporting on something I knew little about.  Remembering from a previous blogging conversation that the best way to deal with this was by going to the experts I tried to think of people I could ask about Findland and the Internet.  Unfortunately, I could think of no one I could easily approach about Findland, but there was naturally one person who came to my mind when I thought the word “Internet": Dr. Jerz.

Unsure of what exactly I should even ask, I created a list of questions that I thought might help my article, typed them up, and hit send.  Off went my e-mail to Dr. Jerz.  Shortly after hitting the send bottom, I considered the fact that sending 13 questions to someone was probably not the most respectful thing to do.  But the send button was hit and I decided if Dr. Jerz didn’t have time to answer them, he wouldn’t. 

To my surprise the next morning when I got up, he had answered with a very lengthy reply.  Reading over his answer, something finally began to sink into my conscious.  This topic that I had picked, thinking it was so black and white, was not at all.  I had forgot how blurry the world becomes when I become so confident in my own opinion that I take off my glasses, thereby missing the details underlying the seemingly simply issue.  Dr. Jerz brought up the net neutrality movement, which I had never actually even heard of.  He explained (for those of you who may not know what it is): “[the net neutrality movement is a] guarantee that my cable provider will treat fairly all data that moves along the pipe they provide me, as opposed to letting my internet service provider block or hinder my access to information provided by a company that’s competing with my internet provider.” Or to give a more specific example, some internet providers want to divide the internet into portions, each provider having their own part.  So let’s say that I own an Internet providing company named “Greta’s Internet” (very original, I know), then if you chose to get your Internet from me, I could make it so that you could only access the Web sites I allowed you too.

 

Dr. Jerz continued to explain, “I support the net neutrality movement, and recognize that online communication is a vital form of speech in the US, but the First Amendment guarantee that congress shall not abridge the rights of free speech or press does not mean that Congress must provide a platform for everyone who wants to speak or publish.  In a similar way, the freedom of religion does not mean that the government has to guarantee to build and staff a church for your particular faith in every town in the nation.  I don’t like being around smokers, but I don’t think it’s fair to expect the government to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate smokers. I don’t like being unable to connect to the internet, but I don’t consider my rights violated.”  My automatic acceptance was challenged by Dr. Jerz’s comments and I realized I had allowed myself to become too biased.  My original plan just to interview Dr. Jerz and students who had slow Internet changed.  I realized this would not be representing the issue fairly.

 

Besides interviewing Dr. Jerz and a student who didn’t have access to fast Internet, I interviewed someone who creates Web sites, an attorney, and a member of Seton Hill’s Computer and Information Technology Staff.  I began to consider how much work it was for Seton Hill to update our Internet here.  If we translate the effort undertook here at our small university and shifted that to a national scale, the difficulties became clearer.  The localization was complete.  By narrowing the issue down to Seton Hill, I had gained a better understanding of the world issue.  And by interviewing a plethora of people and hearing from many different voices, I was able to present a clearer, fairer article. 

Granted, I was still presented with difficulties, for example, the never-ending challenge of dealing with a word limit especially considering what great quotes I had.  It was so hard to determine which quotes would make my article most effective while still balancing it so that no person or “side” overtook it.  Working within 400-words certainly required a dwindling down of information.

However, besides gaining all kinds of journalistic experiences (overcoming my preconceived opinion, writing about something I knew little about, interviewing many people, dealing with a word limit, etc.), I also became a more informed person.  I had no idea any of these debates and controversies were going on in regards to the Internet.  I just take it for granted.  Every day, I get on-line, surf the Web, do as I wish.  But there are no clear directions as to whether this will remain this way.  There is nothing protecting our freedom of Internet-use.  The main issue we hear about both in the United States (and globally, France is a perfect example) relates to illegal downloading.  This is not the only issue out there regarding the Internet.  There are so few laws and regulations ensuring freedom or restriction of Internet use that we should be more aware of what is going on world-wide about it.  Anything could happen. 

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Who Are We Writing For?

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I think that Matt made an excellent point in his blog on editorials.  He elaborated on the importance of not going on an angry tirade in one’s editorial.  He asked why preach to the choir?  As he commented, “Like all news writing, I think it's important to remember that the writing shouldn't be about the writer, but about the subject being covered.”  If we chose to angrily rant, we are probably either doing it (a) for attention, or (b) to makes ourselves feel good and to get reaffirmation that our “side” is right.  What Matt said really points out why these things are erred in news writing.  News writing is meant to inform and should not be about the author.  I think this is a reason why conflict of interest is important.  Granted, editorials are not the same as a regular article in the paper, but I still think that if you are so passionately involved with something that you can’t see other sides of the issue, you shouldn’t be writing about it (even if it is an editorial).  Everyone needs to release stem sometimes, but a newspaper is not the place.  As he suggests, “save it for the blogs!”  The goal should be to get others to see things in a more complex way, to think about other “sides,” even if they don’t join in believing them.  Matt’s blog helps remind us who we are writing for.  Journalists write for an audience and not for themselves.       

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Be Careful What You Wish For

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From Dr. Jerz’s “Editorials”:

“Whine, whine, whine! Anybody can churn out a list of complaints against topic X.  It's another thing entirely to come up with a solution, and then make a public statement in its favor.”

Editorials move us closer to my comfort-zone.  They seem very much like a mini-academic essay to me.  In fact, I am going to make a list of the similarities:


editorials.jpg

 

The list could probably continue too.  There are many similarities between the two.  You don’t have to avoid subjective language quite so much, which is certainly a difference from other news writing. 

 

However, there are key differences as well.  For one thing, you have a lot less space to work with, which could provide some very real challenges.  Sorting through the data and points you have and prioritizing which are the most important and compelling can be tough.  In such cases, it makes it tempting to avoid what the other side might think.  It is very important not to do this though.  As soon as you omit rational references to the other side (if another “side” truly exists, pardon my digression, but linguistics is invading my mind.  The author of our linguistics textbook, Hayakawa, suggests that most things in life do not have two sides, but many.  Things usually are not clearly right or wrong, but exist in shades of gray.  This is all the more reason why we should not overlook or write off the other “side” too quickly.  Chances are, the other “side” is not completely wrong or bad and could have some merit to it, if we manage to shuffle off our presentiments and realize this), it will appear as if you have close-mindedly ignored all other possibilities.  You need to show your readers that you have considered other alternatives.  So despite space constraints, don’t eliminate your dealings of opposing arguments.  Also related to this space issue, is paragraph size.  As Dr. Jerz mentions in his explanation, it is important to keep paragraphs short, or the reader will get discouraged and bored and stop reading. 

 

The other significant difference between editorials and academic essay writing which I wish to mention is the scope of the two.  Yes, it is possible that if you write an academic research essay and it gets published at some point it could have a far-reaching impact.  Nonetheless, it is far more likely that a common person will read an editorial, than an essay.  Therefore, we should be extra mindful of what we write.  The audience who reads it (whether they agree or disagree with what you wrote) could be incited/moved to action because of it.  This could be a good way to cause reform when change is necessary, but at the same time, you need to be aware of the effects what you’re writing could have.  The people reading your opinions are not academics sitting peacefully in their offices that will carefully reflect and consider before acting.  While these people may also read a published editorial, other less discerning people will also read it, and they may not be so hesitant to act/respond without careful meditation.  People could take you up on that “solution” you suggested, whether you truly intended them to or not.  People may listen, so be careful what you wish/write for.    

 

Read more about editorials.      


We didn’t have quite as many blogs this time around.  I think this is because a lot of our work for this part of the class was more hands-on focused.  While I did learn from my blogging, I think I got even more from the actual experience of our mock press conferences, article writing, and interviewing.  I learned for one thing, that many times things do not go as planned (thus my change of topic for my spot news article).  Reporters have to be on the ball, flexible, and assertive.  I’m not a big fan of striking up conversations with people I don’t know, but in the course of writing my spot news article I discovered this wasn’t quite as terrible as I thought it would be.  I also found out how stressful news writing is for me.  Everything is so up in the air, that it makes me worry up until the time my article is completed.  Will the event turn out how I want it to?  Will my angle work?  Will my interview work out?  Will I have enough information/quotes?  News writing presents a whole new realm of challenges as opposed to other writing I have done in the past. 

Coverage and Timeliness:  I completed all assigned blogs and posted them all on or before the time that they were due.  I list here only the blogs which did not fall under another category. 

Depth: Here are a few blog entries that went more in depth than the others.

  • Looking at Layouts  Here, I analyze the front pages of two newspapers focusing on their use of pictures, fonts, color, and placement of these things. 
  • When is Vulgarity Acceptable?  In response to Wendy’s blog, I consider the differences in what is acceptable in creative mediums versus the news and why there are differences between the two.
  • The Ethics of Crime Reporting In response to Richelle’s blog, I consider the reporter’s role in crime reporting and what their responsibility is to both the victim and the accused. 

Interaction: Some of my contributions to my peers’ blogs. 

  • In Richelle’s Crime-repetition, my classmates (and even Dr. Jerz) discuss the errors in a crime report and why they are made. 
  • In Matt’s Better because we’re Irish, I leave him a longer comment about his really good observation about how the use of color in newspapers can be as much an detractor as an attractor. 
  • In Josie’s When the Old is Made New, we discuss how although spot news articles do not deal with breaking news (usually), they still manage to make themselves seem important to both locals and non-locals.     
  • In Wendy’s Euphemism and Quotes ,my classmates (and Dr. Jerz) discuss the reasons why profanity is more acceptable in creative works than News writing. 

Discussion: Here are some discussions which took place on my blogs.

Xenoblogging: 

The Comment Primo:

The Comment Grande:

The Link Gracias:

  • Any reflection entry

Wildcard:  I selected the blog below because in it I combine news writing, literature, and linguistics to each other.  Anytime I can make connections between news writing and other English-related subjects it always makes me happy, helps me understand it better, and like it better.

Reflections:  These are blog entries I wrote before class.  They are based on my classmates’ blog entries.  I expand on what I have learned from their blogs and what I now understand better thanks to them.  If I use a reflection in another category, I do not include it here at well.

Previous Portfolios:

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The News Cycle—Growing Up (2nd and 3rd Day Articles)

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The first article I originally picked, State police serve drug investigation warrants in 4 western Pa. counties, was followed up on the next day.  The follow-up article in the Tribune-Review was entitled: 29 charged after Western Pennsylvania undercover drug operation.  It was much longer, had quotes from a commanding police officer and district attorney.  It gave more information on the “street and midlevel dealers” were caught (they sold drugs to undercover police officers).  It gave specific details on a few of the accused such as what drugs they sold and what quantity they had.  One of them was also a student at IUP, so they quoted a spokeswoman from IUP.  However, none of the seven people who were not previously apprehended were found.  Therefore, it is possible there could be yet another article as they find these suspects and yet more articles as these cases make their way through the court system.  I would not imagine that these articles would be in the near future though.

The second article I had picked which was from the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, Carlynton faces suit for opposing enrollment of homeless children, also had an article written about it the next day.  The newer article was headlined, School zone: Better law can help the homeless get an education.  This article was a little bit different of a situation than the first one I remarked on (see above about the drug bust).  The second day article was actually shorter than the first.  It also did not include any quotes, while the first day article did.  Essentially there was nothing new to say in this article.  It was just a summary of the previous article.  The only new development was that the suit was filed.  I think the article was meant mainly just to keep this issue in the public’s eye, as in the future, the case will be bigger news since the ruling could have serious implications for the 2001 law.

The last article I picked, 3 accused of getting $400,000 from altered machine at Meadows, actually has had two articles written on it since it was originally printed.  The original article was extremely brief and promised more information in the next day’s paper.  Sure enough, there was an article with more information the next day.  The article, Trio tripped up in Meadows scam, was lengthy, had quotes, was full of information, and even had pictures of the three accused men.  The third day article, Gaming security failed to record slots theft, provided yet more new information.  The article did not begin with a summary of the old facts.  It assumed to some degree that the reader already had some knowledge of what occurred.  Later in the article, it summarized the old information, but it did begin with this.  It instead provided the new quotes from Vegas officials shifting the blame (which the Casino was trying not to subsume) onto the casino.  It also had more information about the culprits, what allowed the fraudulent jackpots to take place, and how common such occurrences are.  I think there will be yet more articles on this in the future.  It seems to be a hot issue and the three men will need to go through the court system yet. 

Read my previous blog on the news cycle.

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The Two-Sided Coin of Color

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I found Matt’s blog really interesting, because he had the opposite experience and opinion than some of the other blogs I read.  Some people thought the main way newspapers attract a person’s attention is through color and pictures.  And I don’t think that is not the case; however, Matt brings up the other side of the issue.  The color and pictures can also dissuade a reader from being interested.  As he pointed out, “the garish colors” gave it a tabloid like feel.  And yes, perhaps, it is just a cultural preference, but nonetheless the point stands.  Color can backfire.  It can attract or turn off a reader. 

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State police serve drug investigation warrants in 4 western Pa. counties

This article from the Tribune-Review informs us that after an 18-month undercover drug investigation 29 warrants for arrest were released.  21 people were apprehended, while eight more suspects have yet to be caught.  The article is again relatively short.  More information will probably be released about the bust, those arrested so far, and the remaining un-apprehended suspects. 

Carlynton faces suit for opposing enrollment of homeless children

This article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette deals with the fact that two groups intended to file suit against Carlynton School District today in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh because of the school’s argument about whether four students have the right to go to school there or not.  The children stay in a shelter in the district during the day, but sleep elsewhere.  Thus, the district argues they do not live in the district to receive the school’s services.  The case could have implications on the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act of 2001.  I think the article will be followed up on, because first of all, the suit was just to be filed today.  Therefore, as the case progresses through the court system there will be more to report on it and secondly, because it could have a serious impact on school districts.  The article had a decent bit of information and was relatively long; however, it did not reveal whether the suit was actually filed or not.  It had various quotes from different people.  The controversy was probably discussed at several school board meetings before it made it to this level of severity.

3 accused of getting $400,000 from altered machine at Meadows

This article from the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette deals with three men who were using a glitch to get money from a slot machine.  There was a press conference today and the men were arrested today.  The article was very short and sketchy on details and had no quotes.  It ended saying that more information would be provided in tomorrow’s paper. 

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