Six years of NewsCut (5×8-11/27/13)

This will probably be one of the last posts until next week, but just wanted to point out that Saturday is the 6th birthday of NewsCut, which officially launched on Nov. 30, 2007.

I had actually been writing it since that October (those posts are available online) while the bosses evaluated whether this idea really was one that wouldn’t embarrass MPR… too much. The SNINGO post wasn’t supposed to go public either, but a storm was on the way and you know how we Minnesotans panic when there’s snow in the forecast. And so the blog was launched.

We’re public radio, so we’re never going to have a huge audience. Someday I’ll get used to that idea.

Nonetheless, I know there are more people around the region who are interesting enough to go visit and write about — people you know that I don’t and people I won’t write about unless you tip me off to what makes you think about them when I mention the existence of people worth writing about.

It’s Thanksgiving and I’m thankful you’re still here and I am too.

Today’s 5×8 are five of my favorite posts.


Five years ago, I spent every Wednesday at a state college or university, offering 50 cents for people to sit and tell me their story. It was spawned by the developing economic crisis and I wanted to hear how people are — were — handling their future plans.

I still talk about this post when I speak to groups about writing a blog. I don’t know whatever became of the family.

elaine_burns.jpg When I asked Elaine Burns of Minneapolis what her outlook for the future looks like, her answer hit me like a bucket of slush.

“Our outlook for the future is we want to get the heck out of here,” she said, bouncing one youngster on her knee as another begged for her attention nearby.

“Out of Minnesota?” I asked.

“Out of the United States,” she said. “We’re looking very seriously at moving to Canada after we both graduate. We’re kind of fed up, especially with the health care situation. We feel completely abandoned. We’ve been in and out of coverage by the state or by the companies my husband’s worked for and we just can’t do it. When we graduate, we’ll be in a much better position … but we’re, like, just forget it, we’re not going to participate in the system anymore; we want out.”

Read more.


Since beginning NewsCut, I am more mindful that we are connected to each other in ways we can not possibly imagine. I’m also mindful of the reach and power of the Internet to help connect us.

everett_ek.jpg My brother, Mike, died last week in Massachusetts and I was asked to say a few words at his graveside service. So I told the story of Everett Ek of Rochester (left), whose obituary appeared in the Star Tribune last week (you can also find it in the Rochester Post Bulletin). I’m a big reader of obituaries, especially the ones that capture the personality of the individual, rather than follow the boilerplate copy that renders most obits sounding like the one before.

Everett Ek’s wasn’t like that.

Read more.


In another month or so, as his term in Minneapolis expires, there’ll be plenty of stories looking back at the mayoral terms of R.T. Rybak. It’s doubtful any of them will include this story because it got a shrug of the shoulder from the mayor, his supporters, and quite a few readers.

I haven’t written anything about Rybak in the intervening period. “We’ll talk to you when we have something to say,” his spokesman said. The spokesman, by the way, is the new chief of staff for the incoming mayor.

If a 2005 training accident had killed Minneapolis police Sgt. Dan Wulff — then the head of the city’s bomb squad — he would’ve likely gotten a hero’s funeral and proper eulogies from the city’s politicians.

But it didn’t kill him. It left him with a brain that doesn’t function so well and the inability to work. He’s also suffering a mayor who won’t return phone calls or e-mail messages and a city agency that he says considers him an enemy combatant rather than a decorated cop.

Read more.

And then there’s Duy Ngo, who took his own life in June 2010, after years of fighting a city and police department that turned against him.

Duy Ngo and his wife, Mary

Duy Ngo, the Minneapolis cop who was shot by another police officer in 2003, and who settled a lawsuit against the city two weeks ago, is no longer fighting for his life, or the justice he says he was denied. He is still fighting for his reputation.

Ngo’s settlement, his allegations of corruption by the department, and the lawsuit filed this week by five African-American police officers alleging discrimination, has focused new attention on the department he says he still loves.

It’s a department, he says, that has an “epidemic” of blaming the victim. He’s got five years of rumors that won’t die, 15 bullet holes, and $4.5 million to prove it.

Read more.


I’ll drive a long way to have long conversations. When I interview people, it tends to last about three hours which is incompatible with the media of today. Joe Plut, is a perfect example of the kind of person who belonged in NewsCut’s People You Should Meet series. He’s an English professor at Central Lakes College in Brainerd. He hugs. A lot.

(Photo by Steve Waller)

Sometime in the late ’60s, he started hugging. “Some parents didn’t want me because I was so wild. I was liberal. I’m more conservative now.” He started hugging, he says, even before he heard a talk in the early ’70s in Superior, Wis., by Leo Buscaglia, another college professor who was so moved by a student’s suicide at the University of Southern California, that he started speaking out for more “connectedness.”

“I gave a talk — on December 7th — in all of my classes about what Buscaglia said and I told them I would hug them after class,” he said.

In Minnesota?

“I’ve only been almost punched a couple of times,” he said.

Read more.


There are people who “do” and people who “don’t.” We need more of the former and fewer of the latter. What I love about doing NewsCut road trips is finding we actually have more of the former than you might think.


Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A farm couple builds a sports complex in the belief that people will come. And they do. In Hendricks, Minn., however, it’s not baseball and corn. It’s a farm shed and gymnastics that’s gotten people to sit up and take notice.

The town in western Minnesota — population 713 — didn’t have high school gymnastics a few years ago, partly because it didn’t have a high school. It shared school space with nearby Ivanhoe. The elementary-school-age kids went to school in Hendricks. The high school kids went to Ivanhoe, until that community decided it wanted schools for both, and pulled out of the arrangement.

Hendricks was left to start its own high school, only to get unnerved a year ago when a state representative filed legislation to dissolve Hendricks schools and force all the students to go to Ivanhoe. The legislation failed, but it shook the people’s confidence in the school’s future, especially with open enrollment. As many communities in Minnesota have learned, if you don’t have a school, you don’t have much of a future.

Read more.

Bonus: Give me six questions, and I’ll find something interesting about you that other people will find interesting. In Denver in 2008, it only took a couple of questions to learn that the older gentleman eating his Big Mac was Radar O’Reilly. He invited me to come to Ottumwa, Iowa, sit on the porch, and drink lemonade sometime. I never did. He has since left his hometown.


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Women in Congress.

Second hour: Companies like Kickstarter have made crowdfunding ubiquitous. People can fund new buildings for their favorite restaurant, or invest in new products they want to see manufactured. But now crowdfunding has reached a new level – investing in individuals. Companies like Upstart and Pave allow investors to agree to fund young adults education or give them a certain amount for a business venture, in exchange for a set amount of the person’s salary over a period of time. What does it mean for our economy that young people need to turn to strangers to fund their college or businesses – is it an exciting new investment opportunity or does it look young adults into an exploitive payment plan for decades?

Third hour: Talking money with children.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm) – NPR’s “Hanukkah Lights” special, from Susan Stamberg and Murray Horwitz.

The Takeaway (1-2 p.m.) – TBA

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Hunger relief groups have been working for weeks to make sure all Minnesotans have a meal on Thanksgiving. Altogether, they’ll provide thousands of meals – some at homeless shelters or other charitable organizations, some delivered right to family homes. One group, called Open Arms of Minnesota, will make sure people with life-threatening illnesses have a Thanksgiving meal. Launched in the 1986 to help Minnesotans diagnosed with HIV and AIDS, the group now delivers free meals, tailored to address specific illnesses, throughout the year to people with HIV, ALS, MS, and cancer. Eighty percent of those people live in poverty, and Open Arms leaders say many would not otherwise be able to afford the healthy food they need to heal. Open Arms will deliver 600 Thanksgiving meals this year. While they’ll provide traditional foods, they’ll make sure that food is relatively healthy. MPR’s Julie Siple will have the story.

The small town of Hoffman in western Minnesota is reeling from an economic blow — after rejuvenating the downtown and reviving interest among returning natives, the largest employer in town is shutting down. It’s the nursing home; the last resident moved out last week. Residents are upset at having to moving their relatives to nearby towns and, even though the closure fits with the declining number of nursing home beds in Minnesota, some of them feel betrayed by the Good Samaritan Society, which ran the home. MPR’s Jennifer Vogel, who, sadly, is leaving us soon, will stop in to talk to Tom Crann.

And MPR’s Brett Neely will report that Minnesota’s members of Congress don’t like the new Obama administration’s new alternative fuels recommendation that calls for a cut in the use of ethanol.