A Totodile that belonged to Professor Elm went lacking in Don't Contact That 'dile. That Totodile located Staff Rocket and chomped down on Jessie's hair. Ash and his close friends managed to get the Totodile again to Prof. Elm.
Two pieces of information that came to my attention today:
“Students from the least privileged social sectors are more socially committed and more aware of their civic responsibility: These students want “to reveal cases of corruption, show realities that are unknown to the general public, and to do investigative journalism”.
“The students belonging to disadvantaged social classes value the profession of journalism the most, and have a culture of effort and selflessness, which has been inherited from their families. The force lifting the social elevator to access an intellectual profession like journalism is their constant effort. They consider journalism to be a “useful and noble” profession. They have a more romantic and social view of the profession: they want to be a real communication channel for the village people, the forgotten, and the voiceless … However, these students practice self-censorship by not working in recognised and prestigious media, unlike the students from more privileged social classes who do so because they have greater social capital and contacts in the profession of journalism thanks to their families.”
Secondly, from a number of sources on Twitter:
“Independent.co.uk is offering a rare opportunity to an aspiring young journalist. We’re looking for an exceptionally motivated, intelligent and organised undergraduate with a passion for our brand, the world of news, and student life, to come and gain work experience within our Digital team for three months this summer 2013.
“You must be able to work from Monday 17 June through to 30 August 2013. This is work experience, so it is not a paid opportunity, but your travel and lunch expenses will be covered. You will need to provide a letter from your university, confirming that this work experience placement is beneficial and supports your course.”
Over to you.
Thanks to new funding from Knight Foundation, the Internet Archive is expanding its collection of TV news broadcasts. The archive also plans to build a better search and user experience around the clips, which can only be viewed online and not downloaded.
The expansion plan is being supported by $1 million in funding from Knight Foundation. With this support, we will grow our TV News Search & Borrow service, which currently includes more than 400,000 broadcasts dating back to June 2009, to add hundreds of thousands of new broadcasts. This means helping inform and engage communities by strengthening the work of journalists, scholars, teachers, librarians, documentarians, civic organizations and others dedicated to public benefit.With TV News Search & Borrow, these folks can use closed captioning that accompany news programs to search for information. They can then browse short-streamed video clips and share links to specific ones.
David Campbell’s post pulls together some interesting stats on online news consumption, in particular video:
News is a popular category on YouTube (it was the most searched for item in four out of 12 months in 2011)
There is no strict correlation between length of video and popularity — one-third of popular videos were 2-5 minutes in length, and nearly one fifth were longer than 5 mins
Oyala, a large video streaming platform, reported that long form videos of 10 minutes+ accounted for 57% of viewing time on tablets they served
Multimedia completion rates can also be good: MediaStorm says that more than half, and often two-thirds, of those viewing their stories online stay with them to the end, even when stories run up to 20 or more minutes.
Twitter officially patented its “pull-to-refresh” technology for streaming on its mobile app today, The Verge reports. But Twitter also has an original, internal approach to patent applications.
All Twitter’s patents include a contract in which the company agrees to engage in patent litigation only if they are sued first. The contract is meant to deal with the concerns of the engineers whose work is being patented, and who feel the definition of defensive litigation can be fuzzy.
“[Engineers] were going around saying we’re worried about what patents mean,” said Twitter IP attorney Ben Lee, who drafted the IPA and guided it through the revision process. “The IPA is an expression of the values of the company.”
Lee’s work on the IPA began during his initial job interview with Twitter general counsel Alex Macgillivray in November of 2010. “The notion of trying to come up with new ways of handling patents was a major reason for me coming to Twitter in the first place,” he said. “I don’t think it was that long after that we were already having significant conversations with the engineers and senior management about some things we could do.”
Unfortunately, work on the IPA was put on hold not long after Lee joined Twitter — a patent troll had sued the company over a junk patent on “virtual communities,” and Lee spent serious time living in a Virginia hotel room as the case went to trial. “We’ve seen the negative impact” of patent abuse, he says. “And we’re a young company.”
An Iowa federal judge who frequently attends business-friendly judicial education conferences slashed a landmark $240 million verdict to $1.6 million for 32 mentally disabled workers who suffered abuse and discrimination at the hands of their employer.
It might appear that a pro-business judge made a predictably pro-business ruling. Turns out the judge had no choice. The 22-year-old Americans with Disabilities Act — designed to protect the rights of disabled workers — is to blame for the paltry award.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Wolle of the Southern District of Iowa ordered Henry’s Turkey Service to pay $50,000 in damages to each of the workers involved in a discrimination lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In total, the judge ruled, the company must pay the workers $1.6 million.
Wolle’s decision came two weeks after a federal jury awarded each of the workers a total of $7.5 million in damages — $240 million in all. Jurors found that Henry’s, a now-defunct Texas company, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by subjecting the disabled workers to years of unfair treatment and harassment.
The EEOC’s complaint, filed in 2011, accused Henry’s of taking advantage of the workers’ mental disabilities, paying them substandard wages — $60 to $65 per month despite working at least 35 hours per week — failing to attend to the workers’ illnesses and injuries, and subjecting them verbal and physical abuse.
(Updated May 21, 2013, 1:28 p.m.: This story has been updated to add details of the accusations by EEOC against the employer.)
According to the EEOC, the disabled workers were hit, kicked and even handcuffed by their supervisors. One former Henry’s supervisor admitted in federal court that he had slapped and kicked mentally disabled employees at the turkey processing plant. In addition to being physically abused, the EEOC wrote in its complaint, workers were also called derogatory names, denied bathroom breaks and forced to live in a squalid bunkhouse.
The company, jurors unanimously agreed, acted with “malice or with reckless indifference” to the workers’ federal civil rights. The jury awarded each of the 32 men $5.5 million to compensate them for their pain and suffering, and another $2 million in punitive damages.
In a May 1 press release, the EEOC trumpeted the “historic verdict,” claiming that the $240 million in total damages amounted to “the largest verdict in the federal agency’s history.”
Not so fast.
As it turns out, the Americans with Disabilities Act limits the amount of damages that can be awarded to plaintiffs. That’s why Judge Wolle so drastically reduced the award.
Under the act, compensatory and punitive damages are capped at $50,000 for companies like Henry’s that employ between 14 and 101 employees.
The limit is $300,000 for companies that employ more than 500 employees.
EEOC attorney Robert Canino acknowledged the caps in a brief he filed on May 10.
The EEOC “understands that the amount of damages of $7,500,000 assessed and awarded by the jury to each of the 32 class members, while certainly an appropriate and meaningful measure of the actual harms suffered by these victims of discrimination, including but not limited to, the mental anguish, pain and suffering, and ‘loss of enjoyment of life,’ must be drastically reduced in order to come within the stringent statutory limits for recovery under” the law, he wrote.
Robert Dinerstein, an American University law professor who specializes in disability law, says the caps on damages were implemented in an effort to balance plaintiffs’ needs to be compensated for their pain and suffering without unnecessarily putting companies out of business.
Still, he says, “I think the [caps] are problematic.”
For one thing, Dinerstein says, plaintiffs are already burdened with proving to a jury that the discrimination they’re alleging is real and intentional. “It’s not as if any Tom, Dick and Harry can go to a sympathetic jury and win,” he says.
Moreover, Dinerstein says $300,000 is “chump change” for a large company employing more than 500 workers.
When companies discriminate against their disabled employees, “They should pay the piper.”
Even though the damages were significantly cut, Dinerstein says, “You still have a symbolic victory.”
That symbolic victory is also supplemented by a previous judgment ordering Henry’s to pay the workers a total of about $1.3 million in back pay.
Trichloroethylene is unveiled from paints, dry cleaning, adhesives, pesticides, and ink in office environment devices. Small publicity brings about nasal and throat irritation and central anxious program despair. More time doses bring about numbness, facial discomfort, poor vision, unconsciousness, irregular heartbeat and loss of life.
BATON ROUGE, La. — Shirley Bowman noticed the smell after 8 a.m. on June 14, 2012, her 61st birthday. In Baton Rouge, where the petrochemical industry dominates the landscape, foul odors resembling burnt rubber or propane are perennial. But this odor, caustic and potent, seemed especially foul — “like some sort of chemical,” she recalls.
Bowman found her daughter crying over a migraine. Her neighbors experienced headaches, dizziness, nausea. One family reported a toddler son coughing up phlegm; another, an elderly father collapsing on the floor. She soon suspected the cause: A leak of “steam-cracked” naphtha, a liquid mixture of volatile petrochemicals, occurring at the ExxonMobil Baton Rouge petrochemical complex a half mile away.
Four hours earlier, Exxon operators detected an odor in the East area tank field, and discovered a “bleeder” valve on Tank 801 dripping naphtha into a sewer. The leaky valve dumped 411 barrels into the underground system, company records filed with the state show. The liquid traveled a mile before pouring into a separator pit, vaporizing along the way, and releasing tens of thousands of pounds of benzene and other toxic chemicals into the air.
What happened that day in Baton Rouge is one thread of a larger story about the often toxic, sometimes hidden releases emanating from oil refineries, chemical plants and other industrial facilities along the chemical corridor of Louisiana and Texas. Those unplanned emissions — known in regulatory parlance as “upsets” — are occurring more often than industry admits or government knows, according to more than 50 interviews with regulators, activists, plant representatives, workers and residents, and an analysis of tens of thousands of records by the Center for Public Integrity.
For many communities, these upsets have evolved into an invisible menace: They disrupt lives, yet offenders are rarely punished. In Texas, where activists have clamored for relief, state officials say enforcement efforts helped reduce incidents by 6 percent in the most recent year of reporting; Louisiana officials cite a 41 percent decrease since 2008.
Yet those numbers tell only part of the story. The mass of pollution emitted in Texas, the nation’s refinery hub, hit a five-year peak in 2011, the Center found — so even as the number of reported events dipped, the amount of pollution increased. And, experts say upset releases are consistently underreported. For communities straddling industry fence lines, worry and fear remain in the air.
This hidden pollution can produce harm. Over the last five years, records show, upset events have yielded almost four million pounds of toxic air pollutants in Texas alone — the 189 chemicals deemed so harmful to health Congress sought to bring emissions under control two decades ago. That’s two percent of all upset emissions.
“These are a major public health threat,” acknowledges Larry Soward, a former commissioner at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, who served on its board from 2003 to 2009.
“Upsets” occur when equipment breaks down or production units are shut off, restarted and repaired; or, as regulations state, when there’s an “unavoidable” accident.
Under law, plant managers must notify officials when accidental releases exceed certain hazardous air thresholds. In Baton Rouge, Exxon did this. Yet its numbers kept escalating.
At 5:10 a.m. that day, Exxon supervisors told the state the benzene leak would likely exceed the 10 pound reportable quantity. Within hours, they classified it “level 2,” barricading areas and monitoring the air. According to a call log, company officials found benzene levels “so high” bordering a rail yard, they advised the railroad “not to let anyone go through that area.” By 12:30 p.m., the company was testing 400 workers for exposure to the cancer-causing chemical.
The following day, Exxon reported that benzene emissions totaled 1,364 pounds during the leak’s first three hours. By June 20, it increased the number to 28,688 pounds. In its final report filed 60 days later, Exxon revealed the benzene total was actually 31,022 pounds — nearly four times what the refinery released in upset events in eight years, according to company reports compiled by the nonprofit Louisiana Bucket Brigade. State regulators later deemed the leak “preventable,” issuing an enforcement order contending that Exxon “failed to provide notification of a change in the nature and rate of the discharge.”
Exxon doesn’t dispute the leak was preventable. But the company, saying it accurately reported the release, is appealing the state’s order. While plant supervisors acknowledge the “large” leak, they say it didn’t threaten residents. Tests along the fence line showed “no community impact,” their records state; air sampling by regulators back up the company.
“It was a large number. We regret that number,” says Derek Reese, Exxon Baton Rouge’s environmental manager. “But we believe we did an appropriate response to mitigate the impact.”
That’s little consolation to residents, like Bowman. “Everything seems to stop at that magical gate,” she says, motioning to Exxon’s South Gate adjoining her neighborhood. “But if you live here, you know. Chemicals are let out on you.”
Upsets plague plant, community — time and again
Last spring’s valve leak has played out again and again at the sprawling, 2,400-acre ExxonMobil Baton Rouge complex, which encompasses an oil refinery and a chemical plant, and dwarfs the Standard Heights community. The leak marks the 1,068th upset emissions event at the compound in the last eight years, according to a database of incident reports compiled by the Bucket Brigade. Of these events, 172 involved benzene, a carcinogen that can trigger headaches, dizziness and rapid heart rate.
Exxon’s chemical plant had 265 of all incidents. At the refinery, the data show 803 accidental releases over these years; at its height, the facility averaged two a week.
ExxonMobil Baton Rouge questions the Bucket Brigade’s analysis, calling it “likely another misrepresentation of data.” In an email, the company criticizes the environmental group’s methodology and findings, contending that incident numbers published by the group don’t match the reports catalogued by the state.
The Bucket Brigade stands by its analysis, and explains that Louisiana doesn’t have a standardized system for companies to report upset events. Instead, reports are filed on a rolling basis and then posted online.
The steady hazards extend far beyond Baton Rouge. In the Gulf states of Texas and Louisiana, the vast number of plastics, power and gas plants provide an on-the-ground case study of a national problem.
“Non-routine” upset emissions have become regular occurrences at oil refineries, chemical plants and manufacturing facilities.
Data collected by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, TCEQ, offer a rare window into this pollution peril; the state agency requires companies to report events online within 24 hours, as well as annual totals.
From 2007-11, just over 2,400 of the largest facilities across Texas spewed almost 180 million pounds of upset emissions, contamination on top of the 14.8 billion pounds of routine air emissions in that time. Nearly half the facilities experienced at least one event in that period, pumping out sulfur dioxide and other smog-inducing pollutants. The greatest concentration came in 2011: 58.1 million pounds.
The 20 biggest offenders — oil refineries and natural-gas plants in Kermit, Beaumont, Corpus Christi and beyond — account for more than half of all such emissions in Texas.
“It’s a lot of stuff,” says Neil Carman, a former state air pollution inspector who investigated upset events.
Carman now heads the air program for the Sierra Club’s Lone Star chapter, which has filed several citizen lawsuits targeting illegal emissions. Two facilities the Club sued rank among the state’s top emitters: ExxonMobil, whose petrochemical complex in Baytown has released 5.1 million pounds of upsets in the five years; and Shell Oil, whose Deer Park plant has emitted 2.5 million.
Studies have also explored this problem, documenting how the releases sometimes occur every day or two, and for largely avoidable reasons: Equipment breakdowns and poor maintenance, for instance. One researcher, Texas A&M University’s Melissa Jarrell, says they “are happening so frequently, it’s more likely companies know about the problems and know what to do to stop upsets.”
Industry portrays the discharges as an inevitable — and overwhelmingly harmless — byproduct of manufacturing. Regulators have encouraged this casual attitude, some say.
For decades, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state regulatory agencies have effectively ignored the emissions. Officials don’t count upset events in facility permits and compliance records, notes Kelly Haragan of the environmental law clinic at the University of Texas-Austin, because they “aren’t supposed to happen.” In August 2004, Haragan penned a 215-page report showing how easily facilities can get away with releasing more pollution than allowed by the federal Clean Air Act — with little to no repercussions.
At times, she says, “It’s like having a whole other plant no one is even acknowledging.”
These incidents skirt normal pollution controls, venting through flares and leaks. Plants can have scores of events a year, giving off a constant cloud of invisible spoliation.
“A big dose of toxins are coming out of these facilities,” says Soward, the former TCEQ official, who now works for Air Alliance Houston, “and into fence line communities.”
The health effects are harder to measure; little research exists on the threat to residents. But recently, Dr. Mark D’Andrea, at the University of Texas Cancer Center, began tracking 4,000 residents exposed to the poster child of all upsets — the “40-day Release” at the BP refinery, in Texas City, which belched 514,795 pounds of benzene and 20 other pollutants throughout the spring of 2010. Earlier this year, D’Andrea unveiled preliminary data showing the residents have “significantly higher” white-blood cell and platelet counts than their Houston counterparts. The data suggests BP’s release may have increased their risk of developing such cancers as leukemia, the doctor says.
In a statement, BP says it does “not believe any negative health impacts resulted from” its 40-day release. “To our knowledge, the University Cancer Centers’ pilot study does not support a claim for any plaintiff alleging injury from that flaring and has no relevance to those claims,” the company wrote, referring to pending litigation filed by 47,830 residents and workers against BP alleging health ailments caused by the release. D’Andrea has not been hired as an expert witness for either side in the case, but has testified in pre-trial discovery.
‘An Invisible Poison’
In Baytown, Texas, about 250 miles from Baton Rouge, ExxonMobil operates the nation’s largest petrochemical complex, replete with an oil refinery and two chemical plants. The mass of stacks, tanks and pipes spans 3,400 acres on Houston’s ship channel, looming over blue-collar neighborhoods nestled in its shadow. In Harris County, a manufacturer’s Mecca, Exxon’s refinery tops all 155 upset emitters, spitting out 3.8 million pounds’ worth from 2007 to 2011. Its olefins plant ranks third in the county, with 1.1 million.
Here, residents describe fiery flares that have rattled windows, belched black smoke and cast a sooty substance on the ground. At times, they’ve unleashed a thunderous boom, “like an Air Force fighter jet,” says Shae Cotter, who lived across a highway from the complex. He remembers the sound jolting him from sleep at 3 a.m. Occasionally, he videotaped flares aglow like celestial globes, flames ballooning toward his home.
Residents say smells drive them inside. Stuart Halpryn, whose house sits a quarter mile from Exxon, says he tried to adapt to the odors, along with the runny noses and allergy-like symptoms. That changed in February 2009, he says, when his family became sick after a valve leak at the refinery. His four children suffered from such severe indigestion, he says, they missed school for a week. Later, he learned from reading Exxon’s report the leak had unleashed 17,432 pounds of six different toxic chemicals.
“Nobody really understands what’s being dumped on them,” says Halpryn, who moved his family to Kentucky in June. “It’s an invisible kind of poison that’s being rained down.”
The Exxon complex ranks among the state’s biggest emitters of upset emissions involving carcinogens and noxious gases. Top chemicals include hydrochloric acid, 1,3-butadiene and benzene, toxins that can trigger skin irritations, respiratory problems, neurological disorders and gastro-intestinal diseases.
Baytown residents Cotter and Halpryn, worried over Exxon’s emissions, are witnesses in a citizen lawsuit against the company in the U.S. District Court in Houston.
The Sierra Club, along with Environment Texas, filed suit in December 2010, charging that non-routine incidents at the Baytown complex since 2005 have heaved more than eight million pounds of “unauthorized emissions.” The complaint alleges “longstanding systemic problems,” and company records revealed in court show some facility units have encountered dozens of upset events: The refinery’s Fluid Catalytic Cracker Unit 3 raked up 34 incidents from 2005 to 2011; at the olefins plant, the Cold Ends Unit has had 32.
In a statement, ExxonMobil Baytown says it has worked with regulators to “greatly” reduce emissions. “We are proud of the overall reductions we have made,” the company wrote. Since 2000, Exxon notes, it has decreased total emissions at the Baytown complex by more than 50 percent. The company declined to provide similar statistics for the facility’s upset emissions. “ExxonMobil is committed to continuously improving the environmental performance of our Baytown Complex,” the company said.
In court records, Exxon doesn’t deny the 9,374 violations alleged by plaintiffs for “unlawful upset emissions”; they’re based on its reports cataloged with the state.
In August, the company filed a motion to dismiss the suit, contending, among other issues, that environmental groups aim to “second-guess” enforcement practices by the TCEQ. On April 3, a federal magistrate denied most of Exxon’s motion, paving the way for a possible trial.
For residents, the court proceedings might not come soon enough. Since December, the Baytown facility has set off a wave of upset emissions. One, triggered by a tripped compressor in the refinery’s Booster Station Four, pumped out 114,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide in 18 hours. It was the 20th upset recorded there by company reports.
“Exxon is emitting all of these day after day,” says Marilyn Kingman, a long-time resident. “Anybody who lives in the Baytown area is suffering.”
Infrequent monitoring, incomplete data
The threat to fence line communities may be even greater than industry self-reports — and official data — suggest. One reason is that companies rely on infrequent air monitoring to estimate chemical emissions, including upsets. When monitors do measure toxic air pollution, they can miss the short spikes characterizing upset events. “Part of the problem with upsets,” says Jarrell, of Texas A&M University, “is you’re not getting a lot of true data.”
Companies can misstate the magnitude of events through faulty calculations, environmental advocates argue. Formulas used to estimate what’s spewed from tanks and flares are so antiquated — 19 and 20 years old, respectively — they “do an extremely poor job of predicting emissions,” says Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project. Attorneys from his nonprofit are suing the EPA to force it to update these “emissions factors.” Recent studies have shown discrepancies between what’s reported and what’s emitted.
Take the 40-day release at BP’s Texas City refinery. Plant supervisors assumed one flare had destroyed nearly 98 percent of the emissions, a regulatory requirement. Three years earlier, however, regulators concluded that, in some cases, actual emissions were six times greater than what the company reported. BP maintained it has “multiple bases for concluding that the flared hydrogen stream was well combusted.”
Others aren’t so sure.
“It’s a typical example of what goes on in these situations,” says Jim Tarr, a former Texas air regulator who serves as a consulting expert in pending lawsuits against BP over its 40-day release. “Not all companies do it this way,” he says, referring to the flaring forecast, “but a lot do.”
If the calculations seem questionable, critics say, so do all those upsets that don’t count. Company reports don’t account for unpermitted releases falling beneath the thresholds for reporting requirements — up to 5,000 pounds for some pollutants. Plant supervisors must keep records detailing the events and include their emissions in annual totals, but not in incident reports. Considered “below reportable quantity,” they essentially never happened.
“That’s the bigger story on upsets,” asserts Jay DeLouche, a Lake Charles lawyer who has sued facilities over the emissions. Some managers “just determine [an upset] is below reportable quantity … and say, ‘Nothing happened, it’s a non-event.’ ”
“Non-events” can translate into big numbers. Company records revealed in court in the ExxonMobil Baytown case show thousands more “non-reportable” emissions events than the “reportable” ones filed online with TCEQ. Filling 235 pages’ worth of documentation, the 2,158 non-events outnumber the 333 reportable events by more than six to one. In Baton Rouge, Exxon’s refinery has boasted a similarly high ratio of non-events; according to the latest data compiled by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, the company has designated 70 percent of refinery incidents “below reportable quantity” in 2011, up from roughly 10 percent in 2005.
“We believe the refineries under-report,” says the Bucket Brigade’s Anne Rolfes.
Exxon says it “is very diligent in its reporting of incidents, no matter how small.” Plant supervisors must notify authorities of events within an hour of discovery, even if the amount is unknown, the company notes; often, they must report back to regulators that “the quantity is less than initially thought.”
Over the last five years, the company says it has reduced incidents exceeding the reportable quantity at the Baton Rouge refinery by 86 percent, and at the chemical plant by 47 percent. “We take every environmental incident seriously,” Exxon wrote. “We have a passion to reduce incidents and releases.”
Some residents and workers wonder whether ExxonMobil disclosed the massive amount of benzene released last June because regulators had swooped in to investigate. “If they could have hid it, they would have hid it,” contends Bob Landry, of the United Steel Workers Local 13-12.
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is exploring that question.
In their 206-page report in 2012, LDEQ inspectors determined that Exxon supervisors failed to notify the agency once they knew a “substantial amount” of benzene was emitted. An Exxon Baton Rouge environmental manager informed inspectors the company had become aware of the leak’s extent at 12:30 p.m. that first day — just seven hours after notifying the state — when its engineers calculated the vapor loss. Exxon disclosed the calculations six days later.
The agency “believes Exxon knew more about the leak than it shared with us,” says Cheryl Nolan, LDEQ’s enforcement chief. She declined to elaborate, citing the company’s appeal.
Exxon supervisors insist they intended to notify regulators of the growing leak. “As the data came in we shared those concentrations with” the LDEQ, says environmental manager Reese, noting that his calculations kept changing as workers collected the naphtha and tested the air. “We want to be open and honest.”
The Trouble in Shreveport
Upstate in Shreveport, residents have for years complained of the Calumet Specialty Products oil refinery’s upsets, which have shattered windows and shaken foundations. Regulators wouldn’t necessarily know about the drama from company reports. The refinery has filed just 83 incident reports with the LDEQ from 2005 to mid-2011, among the lowest numbers in the state, the Bucket Brigade’s data shows.
Tired of the pervasive “rotten-egg” stench, residents have kept event logs and taken samples with specially equipped buckets, exposing unsafe levels of hydrogen sulfide. The gas causes headaches, eye irritations and sore throats. “It’s a battle every day,” confides Velma White, of the Residents for Air Neutralization, “and I’m tired.”
In August 2011, after a push by RAN and the Bucket Brigade, EPA inspected the refinery, uncovering a series of plant failures. The agency also found a litany of reporting problems. Calumet managers notified the EPA of six incidents in five years, yet their internal files documented nearly 600 — 100 times as many — a 2011 EPA document shows. Inspectors audited 161 records, finding most lacked the basic required information. Some offered no details.
Calumet’s plant manager, Tom Germany, didn’t respond to emails and calls seeking comment, and neither did other facility representatives. According to the EPA’s inspection report, Germany told regulators that “he knows what good looks like and recognizes that Calumet is not there yet.”
In the ensuing 18 months, Calumet managers have filed 19 reports of “unauthorized discharges” with the state, nearly one a month. “You’d have thought they’d be more cautious” since the EPA visit, says RAN’s White. “But they’re still piling it on us.”
Sometimes, the government stick is more tepid than expected. More than a year and a half after the EPA’s damning report in Shreveport, regulators have yet to issue violations. Advocate White says she met with EPA officials and Calumet supervisors as part of negotiations in a civil enforcement action — relaying community demands for anti-pollution projects including a medical mobile unit. While EPA officials told her to expect a “large” fine, she says past settlements with Calumet, including a $1 million fine levied by state regulators in 2010, have meant little in real terms.
“It didn’t solve the problem,” White says. “You send DEQ and EPA to Calumet, and they come out with roses.”
Some former regulators view such fines as “ineffective.” As TCEQ commissioner, Soward tried to change the way the agency determines financial penalties, to no avail. Today, he says, upset events aren’t treated “any differently than a common violation,” rendering fines so paltry companies have no incentive to stop.
Citizen suits, whistleblowers expose truths
The citizen suits in Texas may reveal deeper truths than regulators have found. In 2008, environmental groups sued Shell over recurring emissions at its Deer Park facility, which ranked among the state’s top 20 upset emitters at the time. By 2010, Shell had settled the case, agreeing to pay a $5.8 million penalty for its violations, a record in any Texas citizen suit, and to annually reduce the plant’s upsets in volume and number. Since then, Shell has cut upset emissions by 35 percent, court records show.
“That proves it right there,” says Karla Lande, who lives across a river from Shell Deer Park, and attributes her lost sense of smell partly to its upsets. When companies are forced to ease upsets, she adds, “They’re able to do it.”
In Baton Rouge, it took an ExxonMobil worker to shine a light.
The first day of the valve leak, Bucket Brigade advocate Anna Hrybyk remembers giving two EPA officials a “toxic tour” of Standard Heights and noticing a “rancid smell.” She got a headache; the officials, she recalls, “were like, ‘Quick, get in the car, roll up the windows.’ ” On June 15, Hrybyk asked regulators about the incident, and received an email assuring her the initial “estimated quantity was 10 lbs.”
The next day, a whistleblower worker tipped off Hrybyk to a different scenario. More than 48 hours into the incident, company records show, refinery employees were still collecting naphtha from the sewer, trying to suppress benzene vapors. Hrybyk dialed the state’s hotline, setting off a series of regulatory activities that would end in the LDEQ’s enforcement order. The July 2012 notice of violation says Exxon, among other things, was “emitting pollutants not authorized by a permit.” The action, pending the company’s legal challenge, could result in penalties.
Critics believe regulators never would have brought down the hammer without outside pressure. Nolan, the LDEQ enforcement chief, acknowledges that agency officials “didn’t act until we got a complaint,” but stresses that the enforcement order proves “we do act when a company has unauthorized releases.”
For residents, it all seems like more of the same. In the aftermath of the leak, Bowman displayed posters in her yard declaring, “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH,” helped form the Standard Heights Community Association, and traveled to the nation’s capital to lobby.
As the months have passed, feelings of helplessness have surfaced. She has noticed other pungent odors pervading her neighborhood. The Bucket Brigade’s latest data show 13 incidents at Exxon’s Baton Rouge complex since last June’s release, emitting more than 62,000 pounds of hydrochloric acid in one upset last November alone.
“I live up in fear here,” Bowman says. “I’m just sitting here, waiting to get poisoned.”
David Donald contributed to this report.
The WannabeHacks site, itself a useful resource for those interested in, and just starting out in, journalism as a career, has collected together a run through of some “essential skills”, which new reporters may find most valuable as they enter the industry. The post also highlights places to go to gather some of those skills, such as basic coding, if you do not already possess them.
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Reporters Without Borders is saddened to learn that the body of Mohammad Hassin Hashemi, a 30-year-old employee of local radio Nadjhrab in the northeastern Kapisa Valley, was found near his home yesterday, 18 days after he disappeared.
Hashemi was apparently shot in the head the day after he went missing. His body also bore the marks of blows.
“We offer our condolences to his family and fellow workers, and we urge the authorities to establish the circumstances of his murder,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The perpetrators and instigators of this crime must be arrested and punished.”
Hashemi had been radio Nadjhrab's chief technician for the past four years. He also hosted two of its programmes, its press review and “Morvaride hay honar” (Pearls of the Arts). Radio Nadjhrab is the Kapisa Valley's most popular station.
His wife said he was threatened several times before his disappearance. The police seem to be working on the assumption that the motive was of a personal nature and have arrested three members of his family without explaining why.
Radio Nadjhrab director Abdol Mutalib Hame told Reporters Without Borders: “It is still too early to talk about a motive but I was not aware of threats being made against him. None of our journalists has been threatened recently. He was good and professional, and a technical genius.”
Reporters Without Borders is appalled by raids, on Monday (May 20), by police on two Kampala-based newspapers, the forced closure of their printing presses and the closure of two radio stations.
The raids were carried out in the morning on the headquarters of Pepper Publications, which publishes the newspaper Red Pepper and two other weekly magazines, and the headquarters of Monitor Publications Limited (MPL), which publishes the Daily Monitor.
In the afternoon, the police continued their offensive against freedom of information by closing two radio stations – KFM Radio and Dembe FM – which are sister stations and broadcast from the MPL's premises.
Reporters Without Borders already wrote to President Yoweri Museveni on 23 April, a month before these latest incidents, voicing deep concern about an increase in threats against journalists and about the campaign to intimidate the media that the authorities have been waging for months.
“This national police offensive is the latest in a series of grave violations of freedom of information in Uganda since late 2012,” Reporters Without Borders said. “These actions are symptomatic of a terrible climate for news providers and reflect the government's desire to stifle media independence.
“We offer our full support for the news media being targeted by the authorities and we join Uganda's human rights NGOs in calling for an end to media freedom violations by the security forces. We urge the government to respect Uganda's constitution, which protects freedom of expression.”
The raid on MPL headquarters was carried out by police armed with Kalashnikovs, who were acting on orders from the Criminal Investigations and Intelligence Directorate (CIID) with the aim of identifying the sources for a 7 May report in the Daily Monitor.
Three Daily Monitor journalists – Don Wanyama, Richard Wanambwa and Risdel Kasasira – were already questioned about the same article for nine hours on 14 May and on two consecutive days afterward.
During the raid, the police shut journalists inside their offices, blocked access to the premises, and confiscated Daily Monitor journalists' material. The police also used tear gas to disperse a crowd that began to gather and protest outside the MPL's headquarters in support of media freedom.
According to information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, the police raid on the MPL was linked to the Daily Monitor's publication of a confidential letter by Gen. David Sejusa about a plot to assassinate senior Ugandan officials, either members of the government or senior army officers.
The aim of the plot is said to have been the elimination of senior officials opposed to President Museveni's rumoured intention of installing his son, Brig. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, as his successor.
The publication of the leaked letter about the so-called “Project Muhoozi” triggered a wave of panic within the government. The raids on the MPL and Red Pepper, which also published stories about the affair, followed a government announcement that no more stories about the “Project Muhoozi” would be tolerated.
Accusing the media of not being “professional and impartial,” the Ugandan Communications Commission also announced that it would withdraw the licence of any news outlet that continued to cover the affair.
The authorities have not offered any grounds for closing KFM Radio and Dembe FM, the two stations that operate out of the MPL's premises, but the closures seem to be part of the blackout imposed on MPL news outlets.
More information on media freedom in Uganda.
Reporters Without Borders hopes that the reason will soon be known for radio journalist Pierre-Richard Alexandre's fatal shooting by an individual identified as Baudelaire Augustin in Saint-Marc, in the north-central department of Artibonite, on 17 May.
A correspondent for the national radio station Radio Kiskeya and the host of a daily political discussion programme on local Radio Delta, Alexandre died of his gunshot injury to the stomach on the night of 19 May after initially appearing to recover in hospital.
“Alexandre's professionalism as a journalist was widely acknowledged and we express our full support for his wife, two children and colleagues,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“Following his alleged killer's arrest, the police should be able to quickly establish whether or not his death was linked to his work as journalist. In either case, journalists' safety continues to a matter of concern in Haiti, where the political climate is a source of intermittent tension.”
Alexandre, 40, was in his Saint-Marc home when the fatal shot appeared to have been fired as a result of a neighbourhood incident. Was he hit by a stray bullet or was he deliberately shot? This is up to the police to determine.
Alexandre's death follows the murder in March of fellow journalist Georges Honorat, a former member of the management of the weekly Haïti Progrès who had of late been working for the press department at the prime minister's office.
Although Haiti is ranked 49th out of 179 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index – an improvement on previous years – its journalists still experience recurring security problems.
Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call for the truth about the April 2000 murder of Radio Haïti Inter director Jean Dominique, noting that Radio Télé Ginen journalists were attacked in Port-au-Prince on 8 May, the day that a judge questioned former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide about the Dominique murder.
Tuesday Q&A: CEO Baba Shetty talks Newsweek’s relaunch, user-first design, magazineness, and the business model
Less than a month later, the company announced that Newsweek was putting an end to its print edition and going all-digital. Last week, Shetty released the beta version of the relaunched website, a simple, colorful, responsive, and easily navigable new home for the decades-old news brand.
Shetty began working with the magazine on a “Mad Men”-themed issue on retro advertising back in March 2012. So maybe it’s not surprising that the new site’s first feature article is an exploration of what makes contemporary television so addictive. Shetty has big plans for capitalizing on on the historically respected Newsweek name, blending a New York Times-like metered paywall approach with an ambitious sponsorship model that will see a lot of creative ad work coming off the Newsweek desk.
On Monday, Shetty and I spoke about how he sees that plan unfolding, as well as some of his favorite new design features, bringing classic Newsweek covers into the digital space, and why ad agencies should act more like newsrooms. Here’s our conversation:
O’Donovan: So let’s start with the redesign! Congrats, first of all — very exciting. Shetty: Oh, thank you. O’Donovan: I’m curious, first, who you were looking to for inspiration with the redesign and what your major goals were. Shetty: The audience is a combination of the people who’ve always looked to Newsweek for its sense of authority, its sense of editorial authority and its stature — its ability to offer perspective on the happenings in the world. But we also wanted to really innovate around the narrative formats for longform publishing on the web.
The real story of the Newsweek relaunch is that it allowed us to think about innovation in a way that really hasn’t happened much for professional journalism. Actually, there’s been a ton of innovation in microblogging and other formats — look at the Tumblr news from the last couple days. Enormous value from thinking about beautiful user experience for content consumption.
But really, a lot of the professional editorial products kind of slavishly follow a set of conventions that are all about maximizing pageviews. You look at a long article that might require seven clicks and page reloads to get through — and then there’s a lot of display advertising that is competing for attention with the actual content. We thought there was an opportunity to do for professional journalism what Tumblr and Pinterest and Flipboard, so many of the other innovative new startups, have done for other kinds of content.
So what we see with Newsweek is the user first. I’ve been talking about it as user-first publishing. The idea is, let’s deconstruct the sense of magazineness — not as a physical thing, but as a concept. The sense of magazineness is about a beautiful user experience. You think about your favorite magazine and sitting in your favorite chair at home and reading it — there’s a sense of editorial coherence. You know — the cover communicates a sense of editorial priority, there’s a table of contents that lends a sense of coherence to the issue. It’s a beautiful package that results.
But when magazines go digital, so much of that’s lost because of the conventions I talked about before — you slice and dice content into the slivers that we call pageviews, and it’s not a very satisfying experience to read professional journalism on the web.
So we really wanted to take a leap forward with Newsweek. In addition to the idea of the editorial stature and credibility of Newsweek, also creating a radically creative user experience around that content. I can talk about a few of the features if you think that would be useful.O’Donovan: Yes, but I’m still curious about other projects, other sites, other redesigns, that you might have taken something from, or tried to emulate at all. Or maybe this is a ground zero thing. But for example, The New Republic’s redesign, or maybe Quartz — is there a trend? Shetty: There really weren’t — we didn’t really emulate anything. What we were trying to do was stay true to Newsweek and what the ideal user experience would be.
The cover — there actually is a cover, and it was static in the first issue, and in future issues it will be interactive, video-based multimedia. It’s this idea of drawing a reader in to something that has great editorial to prominence and priority, and we’re going to explore what the cover could be in the digital age. There is a persistent table of contents which is available to you at any part of the experience, and that lends a sense of completeness and coherence to this experience.O’Donovan: Yeah, the table of contents gives an element of navigability — it helps you understand the fullness of the product. Shetty: Exactly. It’s persistent. No matter where you are, in an article or on a page, when you mouse over the window, the table of contents dissolves into view, and you can access it. So there’s a sense of, again, an ideal concept of magazineness, and part of it is this sense of complete control over the content consumption experience. So we thought, we’d love to make that real in a natively digital format.
Of course, we took account of all the devices that people read on now, so the site is fully responsive and looks beautiful on a handset or tablet screen or — you should really try it on a 23-inch monitor. It’s gorgeous in large format screens. It gracefully apportions itself to whatever the screen happens to be.O’Donovan: What would you say, right now, the focus is on in mobile, in building apps? I feel like there’s this turn back towards building cross-platform websites and away from apps. Where did apps fall into your priorities when you started compared to where you are now? Shetty: Yes, you’re exactly right. I think 18 months ago, everybody was talking about native apps as absolutely the way to go. But there’s a lot of friction in the app experience, and what I mean by that is apps have to be downloaded, apps have to be used and accessed on a regular basis, apps sometimes make it a little more difficult to share content. People are sometimes not as adept at sharing content via apps as they are across the open web. So for us, it’s about giving consumers a choice. We’re going to parallel-path for a while — we’ll also have a Newsweek app available. But the open web launch we did last week we think is actually a beautiful experience across devices. It’s friction-free — there’s nothing to download, there’s nothing that prevents easy sharing. So it’s designed to kind of be — I don’t want to say post-app, but it’s post- the initial way of publishing thinking, that native apps are the only way to go. I think a well designed, thoughtfully engineered open web experience can be terrific for the user. O’Donovan: You mentioned building an interactive cover page earlier — I’d be interested in knowing what other kinds of engagement you’re interested in building across the site. How did you think about structuring comments? How do you want people to respond to the site? Shetty: We thought a lot about socially driven content, and if you actually look at an article called “The Way They Hook Us — For 13 Hours Straight,” which is about longform, binge-viewing, addictive TV shows — you know, “Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones,” et cetera — if you look at that story, you can see how we handle social. Instead of having commentary being a thing that is relegated to the bottom of the page, there’s a set of functionality on the left side margin that moves along with the story. Right now, there’s 2,100 opinions listed — it’s a way to kind of over time have the idea that engagement opportunities are persistently available, no matter where you are reading these stories — it’s not just a thing that’s relegated ot the boot of a page. There’s a tray that actually slides out to reveal the social features. And there’s a lot of innovation we have planned in that area as well.
And while we’re talking about a long article page, you can kind of see the ability to use multimedia photography, video, infographics to help the journalistic storytelling of a longform piece. That’s another, I think, terrific step forward. It’s not the tyranny of the pageview, it’s not the conventions that are going to deliver more advertising properties — it’s thinking about he user first. What’s going to make for a great reading experience? in that way, I think it differs from a lot of the conventions that are in play across the web.O’Donovan: So this is my understanding having read a couple things, so correct me if I’m wrong — but your strategy is first to build this product that people are going to want, and then slowly to introduce a paywall, and then later this sponsored content component. Can you explain how you see that unfolding and over what kind of timeline? Shetty: I can talk a little bit about it — I probably can’t talk about all of our plans right now.
The metered access is going to be rolled out fairly soon, and that’s just the simple idea that, look, anybody can read any article on Newsweek, and initially that’s completely open and completely free. But only subscribers will be able to consume content over a certain number of articles. So it’s very similar to what The New York Times and others have done. Open access — we want a lot of social sharing, we want a lot of visibility of the content across the open web. But what we’re asking is, if people consume over a certain amount of content, that they subscribe. And that’s going to take place fairly soon.
The second question is how brands can participate. We have the same principles we’ve been talking about — thinking about the user first — applied to brand participation. What we’re going to do is limit the clutter — relatively few units, but really high impact — but stay with the design aesthetic of the site overall. They’re going to be beautiful, unignorable, but the value exchange with the reader is going to be very appropriate.
When you listen to a program on NPR, and there’s a sponsorship message before the program starts, you can kind of say, okay, well, I get that. I get how that works. It’s a reasonable exchange between the audience and the brand that sponsors the content. That’s really the model. It’s not as much about the standards of display advertising that have dominated the discussion on the web. It’s a sponsorship model — a different direction.O’Donovan: From a structural standpoint, in terms of building the sponsorship and how closely married they may be to the content you have, I’m curious if it’s going to be an internal team and how closely they’ll work with the editorial team, or if it’s someone from outside. How does that all work? Shetty: Oh, it’s all part of one organization in our company, and it’s a close partnership between the editorial and business sides. O’Donovan: I was just reading earlier, you wrote, along with someone else, a piece for the Harvard Business Review about how advertising companies should act more like newsrooms. I was hoping you could explain that theory and maybe, I’d be curious to know if that was an idea that started to percolate for you having been in a newsroom for a little while. Shetty: It actually started percolating for me well before I came into a newsroom. I think it actually a pretty clear direction that has been well represented by a lot of people. There’s a real opportunity for smart brands to publish content that’s useful, interesting, engaging, and helpful to their audience. It’s not a new idea — in fact I always talk about the fact that it’s an idea that’s been around for a very long time.
But what’s changed is all the tools that are available for content creation, distribution, measurement and all the channels that are available to brands. I think it’s a very powerful idea. I don’t think it’s one of these trend-of-the-season ideas. I think it’s a dramatic industry shift that we’re going to be tracking for years to come, through various iterations.
That was something I did with Jerry Wind, head of the Future of Advertising Program at Wharton. It was really based on the Wharton 2020 Project, which was asking a lot of advertisers about what they think about the future of advertising, and it was such a consistent theme — that it’s going to be less and less about what we think of advertising today, and more content that is voluntarily consumed by people because they view it as in some way useful or interesting. O’Donovan: As we continue to see this trend toward sponsored content and cooperation between advertisers and news brands, I’m curious what your advice might be to other people who are following a path similar to yours — coming from the ad side and moving into newsroom, operating as the person who is trying to bring those two things together. Are there any specific challenges or surprises there? How would you tell someone to pursue that? Shetty: I would just say think about the user first, and by the way, think about editorial standards. It doesn’t serve anyone to have editorial standards compromised. Users don’t want that, the consumer doesn’t want that, and certainly it doesn’t benefit the editorial side of things either. Nobody wants that. I think full transparency and good judgment are critical here. O’Donovan: How do you telegraph that to the reader? Shetty: Well, we don’t really — we haven’t really had any issues with telegraphing that. It’s just kind of clearly indicating where, what the source of a particular piece of content is. I think as long as you maintain these kind of standards, there really aren’t issues. O’Donovan: And in terms of the user-centric experience you’re trying to build — you’re talking about how modern newsrooms have so many different kinds of metrics available to them now — when I hear people talk about building new products like this, they talk about building something light and flexible, and prototyping it so you can really respond to the audience’s initial reaction to it. I’d be curious to know how you’re tracking that, how you’re listening to the reader, and what kind of flexibility you’ve been able to build into the product. Shetty: Absolutely. The iterative nature of web design development — or I should say, digital design development — is a terrific kind of approach for designing something that users really love and respond to. For us, it’s tools like Chartbeat, which we love, and other kind of leading-edge ways of getting real moment-to-moment feedback from not only what people are reading, but how they’re spending time with it, where they’re coming from, what kind of engagement they have with it. It’s all fed right back to the design and development process.
It’s a long way from the days of just building it and they will come. It’s really paying such close attention to what people actually respond to.