News Hole



Pawlenty Requests Drought Relief

August 3—Gov. Tim Pawlenty formally requested federal loans for farmers in dozens of Minnesota counties suffering from extreme drought. In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, Pawlenty asked for twenty-five counties to be declared agricultural disasters, meaning farmers would be eligible for low-interest loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The letter came three days after Pawlenty toured farms in the Little Falls area, one of several rural areas where crops have withered or been destroyed by this summer’s lingering drought. Last week, the National Drought Mitigation Center labeled a wide swath of Minnesota—stretching from the southwest to the northeast, and including sections of Wisconsin and Michigan—as suffering from “severe” drought.

Eighty-two percent of Minnesota’s cropland has suffered from a lack of moisture this season, according to a recent USDA report. Corn is in the worst shape: nearly forty percent of that crop, the report contends, is in “poor” or “very poor” condition. This is the second straight arid year for many state farmers, though most who see decreased revenue due to failed crops will be reimbursed through insurance programs. —BV


Jason de Rusha, WCCO-TV

I was in the newsroom working on a story about how the drought was causing farmers to drop out of the Mill City Market. Our GM [Susan Adams Loyd] was giving a tour when the first call came in, and someone said … well, the kind of words you wouldn’t expect to hear while the GM is leading a tour.

Brad Earley, a photographer, looked at me and just said, “Let’s go.” By 6:21 I was on the air. I guess KMSP was the first to break the story, but because of our proximity, we were first from the scene.

I stayed until 1:30 a.m., when we did our last feed, and got home at three. I think our assistant news director, Mike Caputa, put in forty straight hours.

I wish I could say I had a half-dozen hot stories that I had to put on hold, but it was August. I had a piece about a glass artist at the Uptown Art Fair on my to-do list, so I don’t think there was a lot of stuff falling through the cracks.

I’m pretty sure the murder of a woman out in Montrose would have been a lead story for several days. I had been out there five days earlier to cover the horse-barn fire, and then a woman was found murdered practically next door? In a small town like that? Tell me that isn’t weird.


Planning Continues for Republican Convention

August 5—Prominent Republicans from across the country left the Twin Cities this weekend, following four days of meetings geared toward finalizing plans for next year’s national convention in St. Paul.

The majority of the meetings were closed to the public and news media, and consisted largely of cementing ancillary details for the convention, including firming up arrangements for hotels and other accommodations. The meetings also included strategic planning in the event that delegate seating is challenged, still a strong possibility if none of the current Republican presidential candidates locks up a majority of votes before the convention.

First Lady Laura Bush and former Massachusetts governor and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney were among the attendees at the gathering, titled “Republican for a Reason.” Wednesday evening’s kick-off event at City Center in downtown Minneapolis was clouded by news of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse. Convention representatives said none of the attendees were harmed in the disaster.

The 2008 Republican National Convention will be held at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center September 1-4. —BV


Randy Furst, Star Tribune

The Republican National Committee started its four-day visit that Wednesday, and I was scheduled to spend Thursday and Friday on that story. We had a series planned through Saturday. One story was pretty much in the can. But the Republicans were going to tour the Xcel Center on Thursday, and I planned to go along.

Wednesday night I was at home; my wife was watching Hardball on MSNBC when I heard them say the 35W bridge in Minneapolis had collapsed. I called the paper and they said, “Come on in.”

I stayed on the story til around midnight, when I was relieved. I went down to the site. I managed to talk to a couple kids from the school bus. Thursday morning I was back working the street for bridge stories.

By Friday, with all the bridge coverage packed in the front section, editors put out word that they needed stories for the metro section, so I reconnected with the RNC at the Marriott. I tried to work in the infrastructure issue when I buttonholed them, but that angle went nowhere.

One important story that took a backseat, and rightly so, was the growing number of individuals inside the Republican party, as well as seasoned observers, who believe no candidate will emerge from the primaries with enough delegates for the nomination. That story finally got played on the front page of the metro section Friday morning. Another was a story about the ACLU getting partners at blue-chip law firms to agree to represent demonstrators arrested at the convention. That was being held for a possible front-page slot but had to be moved inside [on August 5].

I think our coverage was impressive. The situation here has not been good. The mood has not been good. But people—reporters, copy editors, editors, photographers, everyone—set aside all their feelings and worked flat-out to the point where you could see the fatigue and exhaustion.


Feral cats still have home to roam

August 9—St. Paul’s feral cats will still be allowed to roam, after the St. Paul City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a program to catch and neuter or spay the cats and then release them back into the city.

And now the city needs residents’ help.

The city will contract with Hastings-based Animal Ark, a no-kill center that will work for free with residents to trap the cats in neighborhoods, starting with Frogtown. Residents will be asked to catch feral cats in traps using tuna and other bait, and then bring them to Ark’s mobile animal hospital in St. Paul, where the cats will be spayed or neutered and then vaccinated. Then residents will pick the cats up and release them where they were caught.

Some residents praised the program as a humane solution to the city’s ongoing struggle with the feral cat population; the city has killed thousands of the cats in recent years. Others, however, including bird lovers who have watched the cats prey on robins and other birds, have asked that the cats be taken somewhere else after capture. —BV

Pat Kessler, WCCO-TV

I had just gotten home after spending most of the day working on a Reality Check story about the new Twins stadium, “4 Things You Need to Know About the New Twins Ballpark”—with a 4 like “Channel 4.” Cute, huh? The groundbreaking, if you remember, was supposed to be the next day.

Someone listening to KFAN heard [Dan] Barreiro or someone say, “We should get a hold of Kessy.” When I realized what had happened I called the station and said I was coming back in. I think I finally finished about 12:30 a.m.

The groundbreaking was postponed.



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