Monday, July 23, 2007

Research by MU Professor Anaylyzes Questioning of Presidential Candidates in Debates

Several months ago I wrote two entries about doing U.S. Presidential searches, American Idol style. One entry was entitled "Find our Next President American Idol Style," and another was entitled "Great Mind Think Alike."

Then during the summer, prior to the July 23rd Democractic forum on CNN, a new twist was introduced to the format. For the first time, candidates were questioned by everyday citizens via video by YouTube.

Mitchell S. McKinney, associate professor of communication at the University of Missouri-Columbia, drew calls from across the nation to analyze the debate Democratic forum.

McKinney, an international expert on presidential debates, has analyzed the process of citizens questioning candidates during debates and how Internet and video technology might be used in televised debates to engage young voters.

His research shows:

1. When citizens question candidates during debates, such as Town Hall debates, their questions are fundamentally different than those by journalists.

2. Debates in which citizens are involved as questioners result in less candidate clash and also elicit more direct candidate responses.

3. Viewers of debates, in which questions are asked by citizens, report greater learning and higher levels of interest in the on-going campaign.

4. McKinney's research also shows that candidate forums and debates that involve innovations such as the use of video segments and Internet questions are particularly effective in reaching younger voters.

To learn more about Mitchell McKinney, visit

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Interest in Rural Schools is Growing

Back in 1997, I began a project to drive Greene County and comb through 100-plus year old records, to discover the rural school buildings that were still standing in this county. Turned out there were a bunch of them. In fact, nearly 70 of the 124 were still standing at that time.

I put together a book, which can be purchased from the Greene County MU Extension Center, and worked with the Greene County Historic Sites Board to get many of the better cared-for schools on the county's historic sites register.

Lots of information about this effort can be found at the "Rural Schools of Greene County Project."

Most recently, I have redriven the county to update a driving tour of the best schools. You can see an online map HERE or download the 10-page printed map (complete with pictures) HERE for free. In just 10 years, 5 of these buildings that were standing in 1997 have been lost. Others are in much worst condition and most of them are in need of attention.

That is why I was so excited this week to read about the efforts of a group in Strafford to restore the historic NorthStar School there. Read about that group's effort HERE.

Here is a little information about that school from my book:

#69 North Star
Stands at the corner of Madison and Olive in Strafford, immediately south of City Hall and Old Rt. 66. Serves as a community center. Original site of the school was south of Strafford on Hwy. YY, east of Hwy. 125. Building was moved to Strafford Sept. 8, 1952, south of the railroad on old Rt. 66 to be used as a club for the Women's Progressive Farming Association (WPFA).

You can find my photo of the school HERE.

For more information, send me an e-mail or post your question in the comments section of this blog.

Disappearing Bees -- An Answer May Have Been Found

Way back on April 29, 2007, I wrote a newspaper column entitled, "Disappearing Bees a Cause for Concern in Agriculture." Well, I have some follow-up information on the topic. Researchers now believe they have found the source of the disappeance.

This was printed July 19, 2007 in PlantArk: "A parasite common in Asian bees has spread to Europe and the Americas and is behind the mass disappearance of honeybees in many countries, says a Spanish scientist who has been studying the phenomenon for years."

For background purposes, here is a piece of my column:

A new phenomenon in beehives has beekeepers and researchers buzzing. A breakdown in normal colony structure is causing bees to abandon their hives, said a University of Missouri Extension entomologist.

"They're leaving the queen, which is unusual," said Richard Houseman, associate professor of entomology. “In many hives, there are no bees at all. The broods, or young, remain capped.”

Affected hives also are slow to be "robbed out" by other colonies.

This phenomenon, first identified last fall, is known as Colony Collapse Disorder.

Bee experts are unsure of the cause. Possible reasons include mites, diseases, sublethal insecticides and even the signals from cellular phones and rely towers.

The disorder has been reported in 24 states. Missouri is not on the list, yet.

State entomologist Mike Brown said he hasn't had any official reports of CCD in Missouri. "Everything I have heard has been anecdotal," he said.

Both Houseman and Brown say beekeepers that have hives showing symptoms of the disorder should report their findings to the Missouri Department of Agriculture or the University of Missouri. They will need to complete a confidential survey about the details of their loss.

"It may provide some clues or common threads, such as practices beekeepers should avoid," said Houseman.

One local beekeeper told me he has only noticed one of his hives exhibiting symptoms of the disorder. That hive had no bees. No live bees, no dead bees, just honey.

For beekeepers the situation is scary. Not only can they lose half of their honey crop, but farmers also lose the benefits of pollination. And pollination is what the buzz is all about.

"In some states, the impact (of low bee numbers of pollination) may be large depending on the major crops," said Houseman. "In Missouri, our major crops are corn and soybeans, and they're self-pollinating."

He said growers of fruit and vegetable crops, such as apples, cucumbers and watermelons, may see an impact because those plants are pollinated by honey bees.

Right now Missouri's bee status is unknown. However, honey bees are big business in the state. Missouri ranks 22nd nationally in honey production, with 1.7 million pounds produced annually.

A guide sheet about honey bees is available from the nearest University of Missouri Extension Center or online at .

For the full story on this Spanish research, visit

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Why All of the Unhappiness?

A few months ago I saw a movie at the theater entitled, “The Ultimate Gift,” and it got me to thinking about happiness. Well, actually it got me to thinking about all of the unhappiness I see around me.

Then, last week, along came the results of study done to measure how “happy” Americans are these days. The headline on this story (from Reuters Life) says it all: “Americans less happy today than 30 years ago according to study.”

Here are highlights from that story:

Americans are less happy today than they were 30 years ago thanks to longer working hours and a deterioration in the quality of their relationships with friends and neighbors, according to an Italian study.

Researchers presenting their work at a conference on "policies for happiness" at Italy's Siena University honed in on two major forces that boost happiness-- higher income and better social relationships …

And while the average American paycheck had risen over the past 30 years, its happiness-boosting benefits were more than offset by a drop in the quality of relationships over the period. …

"The main cause is a decline in the so-called social capital -- increased loneliness, increased perception of others as untrustworthy and unfair," said Stefano Carolina, one of the authors of the study. "Social contacts have worsened, people have less and less relationships among neighbors, relatives and friends." …

He and two other Italian researchers looked at data from 1975 to 2004 collected by the annual General Social Surveys that monitors change in U.S. society through interviews with thousands of Americans. …

"The increase in hours worked by Americans over the last 30 years has heavily affected their happiness because people who are more absorbed by work have less time and energy for relationships," said Bartolini.

The results of this study are no surprise to me. It seems obvious: just look at the drastic rise in medical treatments for depression nowadays! The same is true in Britain. Although real incomes have tripled since the 1950s, the number of people who described themselves as "very happy" has dropped dramatically from 57 to 36 percent.

While there are many reasons why unhappiness is on the rise, people on both sides of the Atlantic expect government to do something about it. The same poll that measured Brits' unhappiness found that 80 percent of them believed that the "government's prime objective should be the 'greatest happiness.' "

One of my favorite commentators, Chuck Colson, recently explained it this way:

We have succumbed to the illusion that every problem has a political solution. All that's needed is the right combination of expertise and political will. Of course, the idea that government can promote or create happiness is absurd on its face: a New Scientist survey found that Nigerians and Mexicans, whose countries aren't known for stellar governance, are the happiest people in the world.

I suspect this trend toward being unhappy will continue until people realize that neither wealth nor government can ever be the source of true happiness.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Media Ethics Drown When Reporter Enjoys a “Swim Party” with Source

My wife has been a bit obsessed with the story about missing mother Lisa Stebic. Here are the details you need to know:

Stebic, 38, was last seen the evening of April 30. Her husband, Craig, told police he was in the backyard — and the couple’s two children were not at the house — when he thought someone picked his wife up for an exercise class. Her cell phone and credit cards have not been used since. Lisa and Craig Stebic were living in the same house but were in the midst of a divorce and rarely spoke. Police have not yet named either a suspect or a person of interest in the case.

My wife has been checking online sources everyday for updates on Stebic. On Tuesday night, she yelled at me to come read a story that has moved this “missing person” story in a new direction.

A reporter’s ethical blunder is now overshadowing the news story she had been covering since April 30. Here is a summary from the Fox News website:

A Chicago television reporter’s job could be on the line after videotape surfaced of her at the home of missing mother Lisa Stebic.

WMAQ reporter Amy Jacobson, who has covered Stebic’s story, was caught on tape by the pool at the Stebics' home last week by rival channel WBBM Channel 2. The tape reportedly shows Jacobson “in a swimming suit top” at the pool on Friday with her children and Lisa Stebic’s estranged husband, Craig.

Neighbors told Channel 2 in Chicago that Jacobson has visited the Stebics' home frequently since she started covering the story. …

Jacobson immediately was taken off the Stebic story and was told to hire a lawyer, the Sun-Times reported.

Channel 2 obtained the footage of Jacobson at Stebic's home Friday but held out until Tuesday to air it. They aired the footage and posted a story on their Web site after the Tribune and Sun Times reported the matter.

Jacobson’s attorney, Kathleen Zellner, said the tape should not be aired “because unauthorized taping on someone's property is a crime.”

"You can't just go around videotaping and disseminating the tape. ... To me, it begins and ends there.”

Hmm… actually, it probably begins and ends with the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics, which the reporter freely choose to violate. It looks like Jacobson let her media ethics drown while she went for a cozy little dip in Craig’s pool.

The obvious Code of Ethic’s violations that I see by Jacobson include:

-- Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing. (It is hard to question a subject in a crime story if you are getting cozy with them at the same time).

--Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. (Sure looks like a conflict).

-- Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility. (I’d say Jacobson’s credibility on this story is ruined).

-- Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity. (What integrity?)

I think it is even more interesting that her attorney doesn’t see this as a problem but instead is focused on how the video was obtained. He must not watch television news very often. I'd be interesting in knowing the thoughts of other journalists.

Friday, July 06, 2007

City Survey for Battlefield Online During July

Residents of the City of Battlefield are being asked to complete an online survey this month about the direction and services of the city. The survey can be taken online at the city website,

"Residents that have Internet access at work or home can answer the survey at any time during the month of July. City residents without Internet access can visit City Hall and complete the survey on a workstation in the council chambers," said Judy Stainback, mayor of Battlefield.

Paper copies of the survey are available at city hall and can be returned by mail or faxed to 883-5840. City Hall is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The survey is being conducted as part of a project to revisit the city Comprehensive Plan that was prepared in 2002 by the Southwest Council on Government.

The text of the survey was developed by a committee of citizens led by Wayne Dietrich, a community development specialist, University of Missouri Extension. The online survey was developed by David Burton, civic communication specialist, University of Missouri Extension.

Results will be presented to the city during a public meeting in August.

For more information, contact City Hall at 883-5840 or the Mayor at 882-9518.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Treat Internet Like a Public Square

How much privacy and freedom of speech are Americans willing to give up in order to make the Internet a safer place? That was the basic question that guided a recent public issue forum at the public library in Republic, Mo.

Forum attendees each had personal stories of crime or fraud perpetrated on the Internet and many instances of unwanted exposure to sexual content. A few knew of stories about the Internet being used for hate speech and terrorism.

“Because of that personal experience, the central focus became where you draw the line on what is allowed. By the end of our two hour deliberation, this group’s basic conclusion was that the Internet needs to be treated like a public square and the behavior and content online needs to be regulated accordingly,” said David Burton, civic communication specialist for University of Missouri Extension and moderator for the forum.


For the group in Republic, the top five concerns about the Internet included its use to perpetrate fraud, its use to commit crimes, private information and records shared via the Internet, the exposure of children to sexual content and the Internet’s role in terrorism.

“I’d be willing to give up some personal freedoms in order to protect others or limit the top four concerns about the Internet,” said one participant. “I’d be willing to give up even more if I thought it would help the police catch criminals.”

That was a sentiment shared by most participants, many of whom seemed more than happy to impose the public standards of a public square on the Internet.

“Americans are free to assemble and make speeches and do all sorts of things on a public square. But we also want the police there to catch those who commit crimes and laws to impose public standards of decency. If you feel like the rules restrict your freedom, then practice those other freedoms someplace that isn’t so public,” said another forum participant.


No doubt, people are deeply concerned about protecting children from sexually explicit material on the Internet. Adults worried about the impact of Internet pornography on children and about children getting on-line and viewing X-rated and other inappropriate material.

“The abundance of pornography on the Net is an indication of our ethical decline,” said one participant. “But I don’t think government censorship is the answer.”

In this and two previous forums on the same topic, people generally felt that whatever is permissible in print should be permitted on the Internet. So, just as child pornography cannot be sold in book stores, neither should it be on the Net.

As they deliberated, participants agreed that a First Amendment right is at risk here so the conversation began to focus more on improved software filters on the Internet to enable parents to limit what comes into the home (but not limit what is on-line).


People’s thinking about privacy protection online is an emerging national issue and that showed at the forums where this issue did not float to the top.

Early in the forum, when the issue was raised, most were not overly concerned about privacy violations, either on or off the Internet.

“Participants did not express much spontaneous concern about an array of other Internet issues, including hate sites, partly because people said they are protected by the First Amendment and partly because participants did not see them as presenting a danger,” said Burton.


Was any firm common ground for action revealed? Yes. With the exception of what is illegal in print, such as child pornography, participants did not want the government to restrict sexually explicit material on the Net.

People were not terribly concerned about hate sites, saying such sites have a right to be on-line as long as they do not incite violence.

“In terms of privacy, people left the forums frustrated and concerned,” said Burton.

Nearly everyone wanted to stop government agencies from releasing personal information. There was a nearly unanimous sense that a person's medical information should be on-line and accessible, but only by health care workers, not by insurers or employers.