Paul Rilling: Checking the shelves
Aug 01, 2013 | 4386 views |  0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Among the interesting investigative stories in July’s Stars was “Shelved at school,” a review of how Alabama public school libraries handle requests that certain books be taken off library shelves as not suitable for children in the schools’ age groups. The Star’s graduate school interns and a group of other journalism students at the University of Alabama carried out the research.

The survey did not show widespread efforts to censor school library books. It did report that at least eight schools have received requests to remove books in the last five years. None reported removing books, although in some cases the books were placed on restricted access, requiring students’ parental approval to check them out. The report also showed that some school libraries were reluctant to provide records, which should be considered public (July 14, 1A).

The Star in July also provided in-depth articles about utility rates, dental clinic practices, the relationship of lead and crime and the quality of special education in Alabama schools.

Perhaps the strangest investigative stories covered the practices of dental clinics owned by national corporations. There were two stories by Eddie Burkhalter, July 25 and July 28. Together they took up 120 inches of newspaper space. They were actually the same story, the first one rewritten with some additional information as the second story. The articles cited critical reports on such clinics, primarily one recently issued by the Finance Committee of the U.S. Senate. The subject is an important one, but did it justify two very long stories, which overlapped by about 60 percent?

The major charge against such clinics as Small Smiles and Aspen Dental is that they are owned by national corporations, which violate state laws, including Alabama’s, requiring that dentists must own dental clinics. The allegations are that such clinics exploit poor children and adults by providing treatments that may be more profitable than necessary. The July 28 story opened with a horrendous incident of apparent over-treatment by the Small Smiles clinic in Montgomery, the placement of five stainless steel caps on the teeth of a three-year-old child. The story suggested that the treatment was aimed at higher Medicaid payments. Despite the emotional impact of the incident, it is difficult for the layman to evaluate. It would have helped if The Star had interviewed a dentist about the nature of the treatment.

The Star article suggested that the Alabama Board of Dental Examiners has been lax in its regulatory duties in not looking into the practices of the Alabama clinics named. Although the Senate report was just out or when the Board director was interviewed, there had been earlier lawsuits and federal investigations of the clinic corporations.

Lost in the wind

“Winds of change” reported on a wind turbine project planned for Cherokee County. Eight turbines would be built to produce energy that would be sold to TVA, which handles electric power generation for North Alabama. The article, by Laura Gaddy, was informative but left questions. Some answers were available on the web page of the project developer, Pioneer Green.

The story referred to a feasibility study by JSU cited by a company spokesman. Why didn’t The Star review the study directly? How did JSU happen to do such a study? How much will the project cost? According to its web page, Pioneer Green has not yet created any turbine projects but is working on three, the two in Alabama and one in Maryland. What is the expected impact on TVA power rates, if the Cherokee County project is carried out? (July 18, 1A)

More June Starbrites:

• “Freshly Southern,” A useful 5-page guide on where to buy and where to eat wholesome local food; four stories by Leah Cayson, good color photos by Courtney Davies (July 21, E section).

• “On a mission,” about a former JSU football player and his mission to Portugal to teach American style football and to spread the gospel, by Al Muskewitz (July 28, 1B).

And some blips:

• The Sunny King Classic golf tournament is one of the most popular sports events of the year, attracting around 400 participants. The tournament ended Sunday, July 14. With no Monday publication I expected the results to be carried on The Star’s website Monday. They were not. Nor were they published in the Tuesday paper. They were published Thursday, four days after the event (July 18, 5B).

• On Wednesday, July 24, the Atlanta Braves won a ball game, but their lead pitcher, Tim Hudson, suffered a season-ending broken ankle. There was nothing in the Thursday paper, although the game ended well before The Star’s deadline. It was finally carried Friday (July 26, 1B).

Paul Rilling is a retired former editor at The Star.
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