Feedback wanted: our coverage of the heroin story

We’ve been getting some heat for our handling of the heroin story.

blackeyes.JPGMore precisely, I’m getting heat, for example Anne Bretts here, John Thomas here and here, Frank Anderson here on LG and here on N.org. There are probably others I’ve missed. I’m sure many others of you have criticisms that you’ve not expressed, either because you’re shy or you think I’ll bite your heads off.

So let me address the chonology of events and then let’s discuss whatever else. And despite the photo of my two black eyes from a few years back (click to enlarge), I’m not prone to violence or defensiveness. I’ve got a pretty thick skin so no need to be gentle with your criticisms.

See the extended entry for the chronology of events.

Was this citizen journalism? I think much of it was. And some members of the mainstream media have seen what’s been going on here on Locally Grown and realized that between the citizens blogging and the citizens commenting, we’ve managed to offer something unique and valuable that can’t easily be done otherwise.

But I could be wrong, so Anne, John, Frank, and others, please repost (copy/paste is fine) your criticisms and I’ll address them. Others (Ross and Tracy, too!), chime in as you see fit.

  • June 22: Kurt Larsen alerted me to the June 18 story in the Pioneer Press which ended with: “Falkowski said she has been monitoring the media for signs of heroin abuse in upscale schools for years, without finding evidence of the suburban drug trends evident in other states. That changed several months ago with reports of a heroin network among high school students in Northfield.”

    I phoned Chief Gary Smith and he verified the story. I blogged it with the headline: ‘Heroin network at the Northfield High School’

  • June 23: Chief Smith posted to his blog about the Pioneer Press story’s heroin reference and linked to the discussion on Locally Grown (he’s since removed the post)
  • July 2, 8 pm: I posted Chief Smith’s press release announcing a press conference
  • July 3, morning: Northfield News and the Pioneer Press ran stories prior to Smith’s press conference
  • July 3, evening: Twin Cities TV stations ran stories on the press conference; Chief Smith defended his numbers in a blog comment; I blogged the audio of the press conference.
  • July 4: StarTribune front page story
  • July 4: NCO Board member Cynthia Child blogs her coverage of the Chief’s press conference
  • July 5: I posted a copy of the Hazelden report in which the researcher wrote, “Outside of the Twin Cities metro area, heroin addiction emerged among high school students in Northfield, Minnesota…”
  • July 5: MPR aired an interview with the Hazelden researcher in which she says, “From people I’ve talked with anecdotally who are related … have connections at the high school…”
  • July 6: I posted a copy of Supt. Richardson’s response
  • July 7: Northfield News ran several heroin-related stories (I linked to them from here)
  • July 9: Star Tribune’s Katherine Kersten column
  • July 9: I posted the straw poll
  • July 11: Northfield News ran several stories. I linked to them.
  • July 11: I blogged the audio of the Mayor’s Task Force
  • July 11, 4:20 PM: I changed the title of the blog post from ‘Heroin network at the Northfield High School’ to ‘Heroin use among high school students in Northfield.’ I included an apology with an explanation on why I thought it happened.
  • July 11, 5:30 PM: Our radio show aired live on KYMN with Chief Smith and Supt. Richardson; 5:40 PM: MPR aired a story about the controversy; 8:4 PM: I posted the podcast of the radio show; 10 PM: I blogged the results of the straw poll
  • July 4-11: I interviewed two parents, one teacher, and three youth via phone and F2F, part of an ongoing attempt to verify anonymous posters and gain a better understanding of the situation.
  • July 16: I attended the forum at The Key and blogged photos
  • July 17, 11 am: I got an internal police department email, announcing the Chief’s leave. I phoned the sender to verify how they got it. I phoned the Chief, the mayor, the city admin, the acting chief, attempting to verify. At 2:45 PM, I got a verification from Ross that he spoke to a staff person at the police dept. who verified it and then I blogged it.
  • June 22 – ongoing: I moderated the discussions in several blog comment threads, removing some posts, insisting on civility, etc.

84 Comments

  1. You did a fine job of stirring a non-story in to a blowout, fanning the flames of many peoples fear into a bonfire.

    I know the Cheif was a client of yours or you helped set him up or whatever and youve defended your clients before. You should be more up front with that stuff.

    July 18, 2007
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Frank, yes, Chief Smith did contract with me in 2004 to help him set up his blog. You’re right, I should have posted that disclaimer when I first blogged the story.

    I disagree that this is a non-story and that we’ve fanned the flames irresponsibly. Later this morning, I’ll have the audio posted that includes of Captain Schroeder’s comments to the joint meeting of the school board and city council. He’s quite adamant that the problem with heroin and OxyCodone is significant here.

    July 18, 2007
  3. John S. Thomas said:

    Griff,

    The chronology of events is very helpful.

    As to further responses, it’s your blog Griff… Feel free to cite references to my comments in response. I see no need to cut and paste them here, and have them e-mailed to the general populous again.

    My comments are more along the line of the role of a Citizen Journalist, and his responsibilities and legal issues with posting “news”, as it compares to the standards that Civic journalists use. (Print, television, etc.) I guess I am struggling with that dilemma, as it pertains to bloggers and the web. This issue just brought it to the forefront of my mind.

    Griff, I think what you and your site does is a good thing for Northfield for the most part. However, I am just concerned that you should use “Malice of Fore-thought” before posting some things.

    As LGN.org grows, and its reader base expands, as well as it being scoured for news by the Twin Cities media outlets, a responsibility grows to make sure that you get it right. If you see a puddle of gas and you strike a match to it, and then others fan the flames, suddenly there is a large fire. It is just important to make sure that the puddle of gas is actually something that you want to light up.

    Because so many of the other media outlets are weak and behind when it comes to local news, many in this community look to your blog and N.org for what is going on in Northfield on a daily basis. You do a great service for Northfield. It shows by the way LGN.org has grown in a very short time.

    Because you are filling that gap, as a citizen journalist, I urge you to adopt the higher standards of the next level of civic journalism. (I.e. fact checking, forethought, risk -vs. – reward, impact on others and the community.)

    These standards were probably never discussed or contemplated when LGN.org was originally launched, but through growth, comes issues. You started as three people discussing “issues”, but you are now reporting news items. That is a large scope change.

    Treat yourself as a media outlet (THINK BIG) and carry yourself and your site as professionally as possible. Hold yourself to the next higher standard. Note: I do think you are a professional. I just urge you to always be the best at what you do!

    There could be a lot to learn from this experience from many. Again, nothing personal, I’m just looking for a little self analysis.

    This whole thing is a big fur-ball.

    Do I blame you for posting something that you thought was highly important to the citizens of Northfield? HECK NO!

    Do I think there is a drug problem in Northfield? YES.

    Do we need to get past the rhetoric now, and muster the resources of this community to solve the problem? YES, we do.

    I think what must happen now, is that we identify a community leader or team that will help sheppard this process through. We already have the “Call to Action”. Now we need a strategy, a plan, A LEADER, and a team to get it done.

    I look forward to seeing you on the streets of Northfield. You’re a good man Griff. Keep your head up. The bruises will heal. 😎

    – John Thomas

    July 18, 2007
  4. Hilary Ziols said:

    Griff,

    I choose not to make time to read blogs, but my understanding is that you have helped to bring a dimension of reality about this issue up in public view, and I am very, very grateful to you for that. All drugs, including alcohol, and probably especially alcohol, cause very very real problems for our community, and for our kids trying to grow up here. If we could be a community that could actually deal with these problems, it would be wonderful.

    For myself, I am a huge respecter of the Northfield police and the Rice County Sheriff’s Office. They have always dealt with me in a most professional and extremely caring manner, and I see no reason to doubt their statistics.

    July 18, 2007
  5. Griff Wigley said:

    Okay, John, I’ll do the copy/pasting. You wrote:

    Part of an internal memo is posted here, but with no reference, other than we need to trust Griff at his word.

    How were my efforts to verify before posting the internal email inadequate? I held it for 3 hours until we got a phone confirmation from a police department staff person.

    You wrote:

    Who is citing a press release from the City? Where is the press release from the City on its website?

    Curt’s comment linked to the city web page, which linked to the PDF

    You wrote:

    Then the print and television media jump all over it, quoting a BLOG of all things as an authouritative source. Did they call the city? Did they call the chief? Did they post a response? No. All I hear on MPR tonight is that a local blog is reporting the demise of the Chief of Police.

    Although I was the one to alert MPR and the Strib to the story of the Chief’s leave, I’m nearly 100% sure both reporters called Al Roder to verify and attempted to contact the Chief.

    You wrote:

    I’m sorry to see the Chief go under these circumstances. I really hate to see anyone run out of town like this.

    I’d argue that the Chief was not run out of town and that our blog was not the cause of his taking a leave.

    You wrote:

    you and the site should hold at least attempt to hold itself to a higher standard of “journalism”. The days of “We are just a blog” are very much over. It is time to raise the bar on your content.

    Can you be specific on what we did to lower the bar or what we should have done to raise the bar?

    July 18, 2007
  6. John S. Thomas said:

    I don’t feel your efforts to verify were inadequate…

    I guess I was just hoping that the City would have had a press release on something so important to the City. There is a CITY failure here, in that there is no press release area on the city website, and that maybe this whole mess could have been avoided by having the city have a single central point of contact for the media. If that was established, and had been in place, the chief could have referred all media inquiries to this office, the media could have contacted this person, the mayor, city administrator, and others would have been properly informed, and “approved” action could have been taken as directed by city leadership.

    Having this information there would have also given you something to link to. Call my crazy, but on the internet, I love to see something linked as a source to what is being posted, or a picture, or some other tangible fact.

    Again, it’s no problem with your attempts at confirmation; it’s more of a non-availability of a tangible source. Also the fact that you had to wait FIVE hours to get it confirmed by the city, after repeated attempts…

    On the second note, I access the city website, and still cannot see where the press release is. Again, not a failure on your part, but one of finding stuff on the city site.

    The third is about media citing blogs as a source. I am not saying that your not credible, what I am saying is that references were made that made it appear that you were the single source of the information. (I will have to go back and re-read them.) This is a problem I perceive with the media, as they should have more substantial references in their articles. I am sure that MPR did attempt to contact the city and the chief, but it was broadcast several times on the radio that a local blog was reporting “the demise of the Chief of Police in Northfield”. I know that you posted the leave of absence. It sounds like journalistic liberties were taken in reporting by the media.

    Although I was the one to alert MPR and the Strib to the story of the Chief’s leave…

    I don’t understand. Why do you feel the need to post the news to your blog. (your local audience) then call it in to MPR, the Trib, etc. etc. (regional audience?) You got the nugget of news, but shouldn’t it be the function of the City to put out a press release to the media, instead of you calling all of the media outlets? Thanks for at least admitting that you have contacts and a relationship with the Twin Cities media. That SOLIDLY confirms to me that you are acting as a citizen journalist, or at least a stringer.

    I’d argue that the Chief was not run out of town and that our blog was not the cause of his taking a leave…

    I would agree that he has not left town at this point, but… as to the second half, I have a perception that you possibly, after your initial post, contacted the media outlets between June 23rd and July 2nd to stir the pot, bringing attention to LGN, and the ongoing discussion. This action, and the media inquiries that followed, may have lead the Chief into a course of action that he may not have taken otherwise.

    Can you be specific on what we did to lower the bar or what we should have done to raise the bar?

    See my post above…

    July 18, 2007
  7. John S. Thomas said:

    Also, Griff, please understand. I am finding this very difficult. Maybe we should take this conversation off line over coffee.

    It is not a personal attack. I am just trying to understand your thought process, your goals, and what you are trying to achieve.

    It is difficult to do this in a public forum, and I don’t want this to get into a full blown mess that could jeopardize our casual friendship.

    I would be more than willing to take it off line, but it appears that this is a public forum to discuss how LGN could have done things differently in the eyes of its user base.

    I want to keep it civil and respectful. I will do my best. I sometimes get harsh when I write and post on the fly.

    Again, I am just trying to understand where your coming from, why you do it, and what the end goals are.

    Thanks Griff.

    -J

    July 18, 2007
  8. Griff Wigley said:

    LP, I understand why you might not want to use your real name here, but I’ll contact you via email to verify.

    I’ve moved your comment over to the ‘leave of absence’ discussion thread here since this thread is all about the pros and cons of how this blog covered the story. Hope that makes sense.

    July 18, 2007
  9. Griff Wigley said:

    John, nothing you’ve posted thus far seems like a personal attack to me, so no worries there. And I trust that you have good intentions.

    You’ve made some public statements and criticisms that I either disagree with or don’t understand, so I think it’s good to have a healthy argument about them here in ‘public’.

    However, I’ve got to earn some money the rest of the day until showtime at 5:30 pm, so it won’t be till later tonight or early AM that I’ll have time to respond to your latest comments.

    July 18, 2007
  10. Mike Bull said:

    Griff… I’m afraid I think this situation and your coverage of it is exactly what I’m looking for when I come here for local news. So, I don’t have any constructive comments, other than “atta boy” and thank you.

    July 18, 2007
  11. Todd Quiram said:

    My thoughts are that Roger Schroeder’s first order of business as acting police chief should be to track down the culprit that did that to you. He may have other things on his plate currently, but this should be close to the top.

    Nice shiner(s), I’d hate to see the other guy.

    Get Well

    🙂

    July 18, 2007
  12. Griff Wigley said:

    Alas, Todd, I’m not as tough as I’d like y’all to think. Those black eyes were from getting hit in the goggles while playing racquetball… twice in one week.

    Mike Bull, thanks!

    John, I think you and I are talking about different press releases/city documents:

    * Chief Smith’s original press release announcing the news conf. was emailed to members of the media, including some bloggers

    * Notice of the joint council/school board mtg last night was posted on the City’s website. It’s still there.

    * Nothing was posted anywhere about the Chief’s leave of absence. I agree, I think the City should have posted something at 9 am on Tues. Don’t get me started on that $85,000 website!

    As for me having a connection with some reporters, ’tis true, but I’m not a stringer.
    http://www.absolutewrite.com/freelance_writing/stringer.htm
    I’m not against it but I’m content being a citizen journalist (unlike Tracy, I embrace the term) blogger and podcaster for now.

    Like most bloggers who blog for free, I link to the media who create content for pay. Like most bloggers, I like having more readers/visitors so it helps both traffic-wise and credibility-wise to have mainstream media cite LG as a source. Plus, as we’ve seen, they often have the time to dig deeper and put things in perspective in ways that I can’t.

    July 18, 2007
  13. Griff Wigley said:

    Anne Bretts wrote here:

    Sorry, Ross and Curt, but the Strib didn’t cause this problem and neither did the chief. The story started ON THIS SITE. No one in the Twin Cities media wrote a single headline until your Heroin Network in the High School headline and mainlining photo, based on two sentences and NO SUPPORTING DATA AT ALL. After two weeks, you changed the headline and didn’t make a new story noting the backpedaling, you (LocallyGrown) buried a reference in a comment. The chief didn’t have a word about heroin on his blog before the LocallyGrown story and nothing after, until the media ASKED FOR interviews to catch up with you. You can Google this and track the timeline. I did.

    and here:

    I used the word headline for a reason. The original story – in the PiPress – was about the entire report and headlined a drug use decrease in the Cities. Northfield was a mere mention at the bottom. The mention and the story essentially died until five days later when the businessman sent along the mention and Griff used it without fact-checking. The headline and photo here sparked the crisis coverage.

    Anne,

    1. The story started with the Pioneer Press. I verified it with a phone call to the Chief before I posted it. I think that was enough to warrant a blog post. You think I should have donned a reporter’s hat to fact-check the police chief and I don’t. A day later, the police chief blogged the Pioneer Press story himself and linked to our discussion. As I wrote above, he’s since removed the blog post. I have a copy of it and it’s still available in Google’s cache but not their search results.
    2. The police have said that the heroin is primarily being injected. Photos of needles and related materials were used in the press conference powerpoint. In retrospect, it probably would have been better for me to use one of those photos since the injections are not always in the arm, but I don’t think it was sensationalizing things for me post that photo.
    3. My original blog post headline was misleading, I admit, but let me put it in perspective. Both the Pioneer Press and the Hazelden researcher used the phrase “high school students in Northfield.” Not ‘teenagers.’ Not ‘youth.’ Not ‘young people.’

    The Pioneer Press wrote:

    Falkowski said she has been monitoring the media for signs of heroin abuse in upscale schools for years, without finding evidence of the suburban drug trends evident in other states. That changed several months ago with reports of a heroin network among high school students in Northfield.

    The Hazelden researcher wrote in her report:

    Outside of the Twin Cities metro area, heroin addiction emerged among high school students in Northfield, Minnesota.

    On MPR, she used the phrase ‘Northfield high school…”

    Northfield High School has over 1,000 students, ARTech less than 100, and there’s a handful of homeschooled students. So I don’t think it was outrageously misleading to use the blog headline ‘heroin network at the Northfield High School’. I did post the retraction and my apology in the main discussion thread, brought it up on the radio show/podcast, and repeated it last night at the joint council/board meeting.

    July 18, 2007
  14. Anne Bretts said:

    Griff, we’ve had fundamental differences for a long time about the responsibilities that come with blogging. I understand your position but I can’t support it. I feel you are trying to have it both ways, being a news source and the center of attention without any of the responsibility that comes along with it. I have tried to find a way to accept the great pieces of what you do and live with the rest, but this particular issue is has forced me to make a decision I should have made long ago. I wish you well, and going cold turkey will be hell, but for now I have to bow out of your discussions. I’m not judging your standards, just holding myself accountable for my own.

    July 18, 2007
  15. Griff Wigley said:

    Okay, Anne.

    Maybe someone else might like to continue Anne’s arguments.

    This afternoon, the Northfield News posted a story on its website with the headline: Medical condition is cause of chief’s absence.

    It seems like an inappropriately worded headline to me. We don’t know if this is true or just an attorney’s spin. The reporter, Suzanne Rook, only interviewed Smith’s attorney, Dave Hvistendahl.

    But I think it’s fine that the News is running the story, as a statement by the Chief himself is evidently not forthcoming, so it’s common to have an attorney do the speaking.

    Anne might argue that the County Attorney Paul Beaumaster should have been interviewed for the story. Or maybe that the story shouldn’t run at all until more information about Smith’s medical condition was available. I would disagree.

    July 18, 2007
  16. Tyson Wigley said:

    Growing up in the nineties, I had the chance to watch my father work for the magazine The Utne Reader (http://www.utne.com), and watch him build and maintain one of the more successful and respected online communities

    I remember over dinner once talking about a decision he and his team had made, to allow women who had registered with the site to have access to the community immediately, and make all men who registered wait a week or two (I can’t quite recall). You can only imagine how this went over with some of the sites users.

    Now hopefully I’m remembering this right, you’ll have to correct me if I’m wrong old-man, but the reason they chose this waiting period for men was to dramatically reduce the negative, insulting, sarcastic and condescending comments, since those more often than not came from men. The users who were looking to sound off in overly negative tones were less likely to come back after waiting a week or two than those who were looking to engage in stimulating discussion on important matters.

    Now some of you have been more outspoken than others about the way my father has chosen to moderate the comments that appear on this site. Maybe some of you disagree with it and haven’t spoken up about it. So why delete or censor comments at all if it’s going to cause such an uproar? After all, isn’t this the big bad, wild-west, untamed world of the blogesphere?

    This site was created by three people who want nothing more than to engage the community. To spark discussion. To make people passionate about the little and big things that happen in the small town of Northfield. If I’m not mistaken, so far they’ve been somewhat successful at doing so.

    There’s something different about this forum. The discussion isn’t the same from what you will come across at sites like digg.com, reddit.com or fark.com (only mainstream sites I could come up with at this hour). For the most part, you’re asked to use your real name (no hiding behind a handle/moniker), and the tone of HOW you say, not WHAT you say is moderated. I believe that to be extremely rare online.

    So to those of you complaining or disagreeing with LGN for moderating, censoring or deleting your comments, I ask that you pay attention to the tone at which you’re writing. Be passionate. Be aggressive with your arguments. Criticize in a constructive manner. I think you’ll be surprised to find those that you’re disagreeing with are much more willing to listen to what you have to say when you’re not personally attacking or insulting them in the same breath.

    Just so you know, this just so happens to be coming from Griff’s most outspoken. loud, obnoxious, and judgmental son. Just ask him.

    *DISCLOSURE: This post is most likely biased, as I am Griff’s #2 son, for those of you who did not figure it out yet.

    *waits to see if Griff censors the sarcasm*

    July 19, 2007
  17. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks for that, Tyson. Nice touch.

    When we launched the Utne Cafe (web forum) in 1995, the admissions policy was that there had to be twice as many women registered as men for just the reasons you cited. Back then, the ratio of men to women on the internet was probably about 10/1 so the idea was to do something that increased the likelihood we’ve have an online culture where civility and a sense of inquiry were dominant vs. the usual pissing matches, lecturing, and posturing. It worked. The Cafe won a Webby for best online community in 1999 I think.

    Here in Northfield, I’ve used a variation of this ‘civility’ guideline over the years:

    Our discussion guidelines are intended to foster the development of an online environment where ideas, information, and opinions are exchanged in an atmosphere of civility, trust, fun, and respect. It is best if you bring your spirit and language of inquiry with you when you visit and leave behind your desire to promote a point of view that is already formed.

    Be responsible, be respectful, and be within the law. We assume you do not need a laundry list of no-nos to know what is covered by “be responsible, be respectful.” However, we do have two unusual guidelines in this area.

    1) Avoid sarcasm.

    2) Avoid addressing a person indirectly when disagreeing with them.

    Here is an example of both: “John seems to think that all our problems would be solved if we would only embrace his wisdom.”

    These two behaviors are probably more responsible for online discussions degenerating into nasty places than outright flaming or namecalling. You may think this is overkill, but you will just have to live with it if you want to participate here.

    I’ve been lax about getting a similar set of Locally Grown discussion guidelines posted but I still operate by them.

    July 19, 2007
  18. kiffi summa said:

    Anyone who has lurked, monitored, or posted on this site should be clear about its general tenor. And I’m not referring to “the highest common male singing voice”.
    And I’m also sure that anyone who has l/m/ or p has sometimes agreed, and sometimes disagreed with Griff, and in varying degrees.
    Can’t we just accept this for what it is?
    Anyone who wants a purely journalistic community discussion site can start one, or better yet……..publish an 11×17 broadsheet that circulates through pick-up at the coffee houses, grocery stores, etc. I’d REALLY applaud that effort!

    July 19, 2007
  19. Nick Benson said:

    For crying out loud guys… Griff isn’t running drugs back and fourth between the Twin Cities, nor did Griff force the chief to hold a press conference. Instead, he found mention of Northfield in a story that would make any citizen concerned, and he acted upon it – not only that, I think he did so in a pretty responsible matter. Facts were checked, people were interviewed, and most importantly, a good discussion ensued.

    It seems a lot of people have trouble accepting the fact that blogs can be a reliable source of information (e.g. “I choose not to make time to read blogs”). That’s a shame, because many of them, including LG, are great sources of information.

    Keep up the good work Griff, [Tracy, and Ross,] this is a great resource.

    * I’ve known Griff since the late ’90’s when we were on the NCO Board, and consider him a good friend.

    July 19, 2007
  20. Curt Benson said:

    Nick, no one is currently running drugs back and forth between the Twin Cities.

    After seeing the Chief’s televised press conference they are all too scared. “Burned”, I believe was the chief’s word. (Did I violate the sarcasm policy again?)

    Where could one get a better picture of what is going on in Northfield during this situation than here on locally grown? I especially appreciate the podcasts, where you can hear for yourself the original press conference, the meeting with City Council and School Board etc. Also, I know that reporters are using this site and that points made here have been investigated and reported on. I’m sure that the reporting on this situation by the traditional press has just started.

    July 19, 2007
  21. Todd Quiram said:

    This blog post’s information that you happen across every day. It works at giving people information not found in other community resources. It provides a voice in discussing what you find around town. Posting a blog about a story that mentions heroin in the northfied high schools is exactly what I believe you have done in the past and believe is what this blog is about. It’s a bigger story than a pontoon on the Canon, but it is something that you found and posted about.

    LG is not responsible for information that civic leaders provide in regards to the inforamtion you find and post here in your blog.

    Heroin is a big story for any little town to be mentioned with, especially when it involves high school kids. In these posts I’ve heard mention that Northfield has been given a “black eye” and that someone “has to pay” for airing Northfields dirty laundry.

    Huh?

    To me this story is not about Northfield. It’s about kids using a drug that has the potential, with one use, of destroying their life.

    What if the initial two lines in the Pioneer Press, June 18th story mentioned Crystal Meth instead of Heroin. My gut is that it would have been a non story. We all know Crystal Meth is everywhere haunting kids, adults, family’s and whole communities.

    Northfield is a great community with problems just like everywhere else. That should not be a secret to anybody. I enjoy raising my family here and believe that discussing issues is better than burying them.

    Thank you Locally Grown for bringing the story to this community for discussion.

    July 19, 2007
  22. Tracy Davis said:

    It’s probably time that the Locally Grown triumvirate (Griff, Ross, and I) reiterate the vision and purpose behind this blog and the podcast. We’ll have to re-do our About page and maybe post the civility guidelines there as well.

    ANYBODY can do what we’re doing on Locally Grown, technically speaking. Who was it who once said, “Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one”…? Blogging is such a tool, and anyone with vision and commitment can build an audience. Obviously this site is testimony to Griff’s vision and commitment in particular, which is great. But Ross and I share the vision to have an online forum where people can discuss local issues. The focus of Locally Grown is, and I hope always will be, the discussion it generates, and not the blog posts themselves. The three of us would more accurately be referred to as “civic bloggers” rather than “citizen journalists”.

    So in reference to how LGN in particular handled the Northfield herion story, I think it was fine. It raised awareness of an issue and got people talking with each other who normally wouldn’t. I’ve appreciated the constructive comments and the disagreements. Neither Griff, nor Ross, nor I are particularly prone to spreading irresponsible gossip; we all three hear a lot of credible “rumors” that we don’t post simply because there isn’t enough verification, or things are at a sensitive point in a contractual negotiation, or whatever. What we do post we have reason to believe is accurate, but part of why we post what we do is to put it out to the LGN community to see if anyone else has better information.

    We don’t want to be a news site, we want to be a discussion site. There’s a big difference. If the argument is “You’ve become a news site and need to conduct yourself accordingly”, our options are:

    1. Stop posting anything that could be construed as “news”
    2. Keep doing what we’re doing, organize a legal entity, charge for advertising and subscriptions, pay Griff, Ross, and me a salary, and hold us to professional standards
    3. Keep doing what we’re doing

    I opt for #3.

    July 19, 2007
  23. Rob Hardy said:

    Twenty-eight days until I can sit in Goodbye Blue Monday again and get unsubstantiated rumors first-hand. Seriously, though, I admire the work that Griff puts into this thing. How long has the picture of my neighbor on a camel been at the top or almost at the top of Tracy’s blog? Update, girl! But you’re right, Tracy. LG is valuable as a forum for community discussion, and rumor is always a part of that. It seems to me that Griff usually takes this attitude: “This is what I’ve heard, but I’m just one guy. Please add your information so we can get to something more like the truth.” And on the specific issue at hand: as Condoleeza Rice might say, drugs is not a non-issue. It’s good you’ve gotten us talking about it. I’m sure that if, in the future, Griff gets something wrong, there will be plenty of people to blacken his eyes. But good for him, and all of you, for providing a place to discuss things as a community without becoming overcaffeinated.

    July 19, 2007
  24. Paul Zorn said:

    I’m satisfied with LG’s role (and, by extension, Griff’s) in the heroin story.

    I found many of the postings interesting and to the point, and I learned some things about what other Northfielders think about these matters.

    Griff’s original question for this thread, however, asked for comments on LG’s “coverage”. Maybe it’s just my inner editor speaking, but “coverage” rings slightly false to me. I don’t really expect a blog like LG to “cover” stories in anything like the sense that a traditional news source would. I see a blog like LG mainly as a forum for discussion — enriched, ideally, by some factual (and true!) information to set the stage — but not ultimately much like a newspaper or journal “of record.”

    Some of the disagreement in the postings above seems to me to stem from different views of where LG falls between, say, the London Times on the one hand and Speakers’ Corner (in Hyde Park, where any ranter gets a soapbox) on the other. I come down somewhere in the middle, but closer to the soapbox end.

    July 19, 2007
  25. Turner Neal said:

    “I know the Chief was a client of yours or you helped set him up or whatever and you’ve defended your clients before. You should be more up front with that stuff.”

    Mr. Anderson, are you insinuating that Griff is somehow biasing the discussion here? If not, what was the point of this statement? Just wondering.

    July 19, 2007
  26. Turner Neal said:

    I’ve been reading this weblog for some time now, and I was amazed that people would attack the moderators for the discussions they host. As you all can see, Griff has supported all of his opinions from sources, which should be reliable, (Northfield News, StarTribune, local TV channels, etc) and he has allowed the posting of other sources via URLs.

    Additionally, I find it outrageous that the moderators are receiving grief, because some of the readers are trying to compare this weblog to news media. Although I would consider the information here to be more reliable than the information from other media sources, I do not, and will not hold a weblog writer to the same standards that I hold public media to. Some of you may not understand this, as you are not familiar with the blog-genre, but a weblog is what its title describes: a web based log. Blogs are generally the personal journals and opinions of their writers and often times blur the line between reality and the writers’ personal reality (= the make believe). If you do not believe me, feel free to use ‘the google’ and check out the plethora of blogs that can be found online. You’ll find blogs proving and disproving global warming. You’ll find blogs showing the connection between the U.S. government and the attacks on September 11th. You’ll find blogs which say about anything.

    Do you think that these writers’ could be held libel?

    I think the readers of LGN need to be extremely thankful that the moderators accept and support the difference in opinions that are posted here. Not every community has such a non-biased and public place, where all community members can state their opinion and have it matter. Not every community has such a welcoming place where a police officer, drug councilor, parents, and drug users can post and have their ideas looked at on an even playing field and considered. We are very lucky to have Griff, Ross, and Tracy in our community. Thanks.

    July 19, 2007
  27. Marcea said:

    Todd Quiram when I wrote “that someone “has to pay” for airing Northfield’s dirty laundry” I was being sarcastic, maybe I should have made my sarcasm more obvious, next time I will.

    I have teenagers and know how bad the drug problem is here and I glad that more people are finally facing it and talking about it.

    July 19, 2007
  28. Anne Bretts said:

    OK, just to clarify, I am not attacking Griff or anyone else. I have been extremely careful in stating I believe everyone involved had good intentions, and will until there is proof otherwise, proof which I have no interest in uncovering. Griff and Ross and Tracy and I disagree in some areas, and I have stated my positions in many of the discussions here. The heroin discussion has gone on so long and is so convoluted that when Griff answered one of my posts, I didn’t see any point in continuing the discussion or restating everything and so chose to opt out of the discussions rather than beat a dead horse. My biggest concern was the argument from some that somehow some monolithic media monster had attacked poor little Northfield. My interest is in putting together some concrete plans to improve the information sharing process throughout the community. If anybody wants to talk about that, the first round at the Cow is on me.

    July 19, 2007
  29. Todd Quiram said:

    Hey my name made a blog posting. Cool.

    Griff, thank you for all of your work on this heroin journal entry and thank you for all of your hard work on this online journal in general.

    I to was amazed at the negative “tone” that was being written in this discussion on the heroin story. In fact that’s why I posted.

    Marcea, The quoted items from prior readings had struck a cord with me and they just stuck in my brain. I didn’t recall the “tone” in which they were written and I missed the sarcasm.

    My bad.

    Thanks again Griff for all of your hard work.

    July 19, 2007
  30. David Ludescher said:

    In my opinion, Locally Grown makes the Star Tribune and the Twin City media look like the National Enquirer. Sources are revealed, alternatives are presented, the full text is always available, and censorship, when deemed necessary, is revealed. Based upon my own experience being on Locally Grown, I have nothing but good to say about the process you use.

    Unfortunately, substantial, and probably unwarranted, damage has been done to Northfield’s reputation by you starting the heroin discussion here. However, the damage appears to have been largely caused by a press conference called by public officials.

    The much larger question looms regarding holding public officials accountable for the information that they present to the public. We all know better than to accept what is posted here as factual. I don’t see any public officials asking if they did they right thing by calling a press conference.

    So, Griff, don’t kick yourself too hard. Locally Grown has had the best and most accurate coverage of this non-news. It’s not your fault someone took your matches and started a fire.

    July 19, 2007
  31. Larry DeBoer said:

    Over the last three years Police Chief Smith has been named as a leading candidate for the Police Chief position in several cities. First he was a top candidate for Portland, ORE because of his extensive experience in handling our Hispanic population. Second, he was announced as a top candidate for the Police Chief position in Lakeville. He lost both opportunities. Maybe Chief Smith is trying to build his resume for heroin control expertise so he could go on to another city who needs that expertise. Clearly this debate and public exposure is enough to make him sick. If he has been reading all of these blogs, rumors and speculation he is going to be on sick leave even longer than expected.

    Just one more blog and empty speculation!

    July 19, 2007
  32. Christine Stanton said:

    Ever since the press conference, this has been my best source of information. I have used the posted links to hear what the media is saying and to get information on what the community is doing. For me, this blog has also been a source of ongoing conversation with other concerned residents. Unlike reading the newspaper, watching the news, or listening to the radio, blogs let people converse about issues. We have the chance to agree, disagree, consider, and/or respond.

    As a recent student, I was taught that unless websites were from a “reliable” source, they could not be cited in a paper as support. Anyone who would use a blog as a reliable source, would be naive. A media citation would probably pass as acceptable, but I would personally even question that.

    Locally Grown, I applaud your efforts to give us as much information from as many sources as possible and a place to talk with others who are passionate about the people of Northfield, especially our youth. Thank you.

    I see more positive things as a result of the media attention on the drug problem than negative. People–young, old, and in between–in Northfield are working together for a common purpose that will strengthen our community.

    July 19, 2007
  33. Hey Griff,

    I have had no real problem with your postings on this story. As usual, the truth about heroin (and other drug abuse) in Northfield almost certainly lies somewhere between the position held by the pie-in-the-sky boosters who deny any problem exists and the sky-will-surely-crush-my-pie-as-it-tumbles-earthward alarmists who see problems where’er they turn their eyes.

    As I’ve stated in a couple Northfield.org comments, reason must be the priority. I agree with Mr. Ludescher, the chief and other public officials must be held accountable for the numbers they’ve bandied about.

    Asking for substantive (not merely anecdotal) verification of numbers is civically responsible and prevents speculative over-reaction. It does not equate with a denial of the problem. It represents healthy skepticism, lest we be led like sheep by blind obedience to any leader or public statement.

    Even if you believe the chief’s numbers, you should, as a matter of course, expect some solid corroboration to support them.

    As for the problem as it exists now, the solution is common sense:
    Help those who need help, rout out the problem where there is reasonable suspicion, continue community awareness and conversation, but avoid a witch-hunt mentality.

    (Oh, and demand Griff re-instate my blog to his blogosphere page. I mean, come on, I had a heroin-warning-signs list up before any other community-minded blog! Plus I’ve recently issued advice on avoiding identity theft and on being a perfect citizen.)

    July 20, 2007
  34. victor summa said:

    Will someone help the old man?

    Brendon Etter wrote

    “Oh, and demand Griff re-instate my blog to his blogosphere page. ”

    What’s this mean? I’ve read, from his blog, much of Brendon’s plays and other works/words – and feel that as a former practicing professional in the film theatre and video world, Ii have some releavnace in reviewing his published works. At least I’m satisfied with my opinion! Having said that I will add Brendon’s writing skills are abundant and impressive and professional level work (A lot of contributors here seem to have a way with the pen) but….. tell me, am I reading something into Brendon’s requaes/demand RE: reinstatement? Just what am I reading?

    I’m assuming Griff pulled a plug… and that tug was related to the 12 reasons you might want to use heroin or what ever it was that Brendon linked the LG readers to a million posts back… and that Griff felt it (Brendon’s words ) were off color. Is that it?

    vs

    July 20, 2007
  35. Well, Victor, I was being a little catty for cattiness’s sake. It’s Griff’s blog. He can put whomever he wants on it. I was just disappointed to have been removed when he updated his blogosphere page.

    I’m guessing he doesn’t consider my blog to be particularly community-minded. I agree. I generally don’t do “community” posting or direct commentary, though I’ve done a few.

    Like this one and this one and this one.

    I would say, in my defense, that satire and humor are their own form of commentary, of course, even if they are not directly about particular community issues.

    I also fully realize that my use of, ahem, certain language, rather direct descriptive phrases and taboo subject matter might have contributed to my de-linking.

    All this being said, I was just a little bummed about it.

    Now back to the heroin, kids!

    Ummm… sorry about that… I meant kids AND adults…

    July 20, 2007
  36. Tracy Davis said:

    (Brendon – our nifty little plugin for the sidebar can handle a certain maximum number of blogs to aggregate, so we’re trying to focus on those that are mainly concerned with civic issues. No censorship or prioritization intended. As the blogospher expands we may have to look at a different way to do this.

    Meanwhile, I’ve got you in my RSS feed so I can have a regular snicker.)

    Now back on topic….

    July 20, 2007
  37. Bill Siemers said:

    I moved to Northfield in late May from New Orleans. I was worried that I would miss the Big Easy…but not to worry… junkies on every corner; city officials under fire for financial improprieties; law enforcement at war with city administration; not to mention plenty of negative press. Throw in a couple sweltering 90 degree days and I was feeling downright at home.

    But last night’s Taste of Northfield left me a little homesick. What’s with the thimble sized servings of wine? Where I come from a ‘taste’ is a half a glass. And cuisine sure ain’t hamburgers, hotdogs and chicken wings.

    Oh well…I guess a guy can’t have everything.

    July 20, 2007
  38. Tracy,

    Yeah, I understand that. My blog was never aggregated on the sidebar of LG. I used to be on the blogosphere page, though. That’s what I was referring to. I mean, I’m a glory hound, to be sure, but not a SIDEBAR glory hound! That’s another degree of glory and houndiness altogether! Heaven forfend!

    Thanks for the snickering, always happy to provide!

    Yes, what was the topic again…?

    Oh, yeah, heroin. Big surprise.

    Heroin = bad
    Talking = good

    July 20, 2007
  39. victor summa said:

    to parphrase Brendon:

    “Heroin = bad
    Talking = good”

    TALKING GOOD
    HEROIN BAD
    JUDGEMENT BADER!

    BUT………. what is: Aggregated on the sidebar even mean. Why do I care? Am I lesser for not knowing? And finally, when will I understand?

    why don’t you folks talk issue and leave the tech to the guys in the garage?

    vs

    July 20, 2007
  40. Griff Wigley said:

    Brendon, I don’t actually remember axing you from our civic blogosphere page, but it’s quite possible. But I’m glad you piped up. You are hereby reinstated in the citizen blog category.

    Any other blogs that should be listed there… or delisted?

    FYI, I have removed Gary Smith’s blog from it, as well as from our right sidebar aggregator. So that means we have room for another one. Suggestions welcome.

    July 21, 2007
  41. Griff Wigley said:

    Hilary, Mike, Nick, Curt, Todd, Rob, Paul, Turner, David, Christine — thanks for your words of support.

    Paul, I think you’re right, ‘coverage’ is probably not the best term for me to use in this instance. How about ‘handling’?

    Feedback wanted: our handling of the heroin story

    July 21, 2007
  42. Curt Benson said:

    Griff, you removed Gary Smith’s blog from the sidebar…for what, “medical reasons”?

    July 21, 2007
  43. Regarding restoration of my blog: Hey thanks, Griff! Neat-o!

    Dear God, I’ve used the word “neat-o”… Wish this computer thingy had some way of untyping what I just typed…

    (sigh, now everyone will see that I wrote “neat-o”…)

    Crap. Now I’ve done it three times.

    Unneat-o.

    To restore the integrity of this thread, lest Victor attack again [Next on FOX: When Victor Attacks!]: I appreciated the thoughtful comments of most here regarding Northfield and heroin. I’m glad that this blog helped facilitate that. Because some over-react (with either denial or panic) to information you published does not reflect poorly on you, just on the over-reactors.

    PS: Victor, I’m joking with you.

    July 21, 2007
  44. victor summa said:

    Fox? That really hurts. I’ve always viewed my self as a That Was The Week That Was wannabe.

    let’s face it, Funniest Line This Thread Award goes to Curt Benson for:
    “you removed Gary Smith’s blog from the sidebar…for what, “medical reasons”?

    And, ATTACK? Hey, I was just asking. You was pulled…

    vs

    July 21, 2007
  45. John Thomas said:

    …you removed Gary Smith’s blog from the sidebar…for what, “medical reasons”?

    Have you considered that as a tagline for the first LocallyGrownNorthfield T-shirt?

    You could have a shirt with a headline and text on the back:
    Recently posted to LGN.org:
    Then random posts like that…

    Then a cool logo over the front pocket. Maybe a caricature of the three “Characters” from LGN.org.

    Then a site URL…

    Heck, I’d buy one. 😎 It would help with funding this thing.

    I know an online store should be easy for you guys. 😎

    That and coffee mugs… Think of the marketing tie-ins with the local coffee shops.

    The possibilities are endless! Grow that media empire that is LGN! 😎

    -J

    July 22, 2007
  46. kiffi summa said:

    Hey, Griff……. I “supported”………. I just didn’t fawn and drool.
    I’m getting apprehensive of saying anything , anywhere, having been introduced at a gathering last evening as “one of those outspoken Northfield ladies” and it sure didn’t sound like a compliment!
    Everyone, lighten up…… the sky is not falling , YET !

    July 22, 2007
  47. kiffi summa said:

    P.S. Isn’t this thread over , Griff? What more could possibly be said?

    July 22, 2007
  48. victor summa said:

    John Thomas has nailed it again…

    Let’s all shift… 1 2 3 hike! We’ll all devote our energies to creative T-s and Bumper stickers.

    I could envision a Demolition Derby on Division Street

    The birth of DDDS supplanting the NDDC with drivers of diverging opinions, displaying their BUMPER TAGS, maneuvering to smash the rear of the other’s car.

    David Henson – Teeth set, aiming for Athena’s rear end… and “Little Athena” in her tiny carnival car adroitly double clutches to side step his thrust… (metaphor Brendon?) as a crazed Gary Smith, doped up on an unnamed stress relieving chemical, comes careening down Division, bouncing from curb to curb, MARS lights a-blaze… attempting to wipe out the entire street from one smoking squad… and Bright Spencer, like one of Athena’s Prom Queens sits atop the rolled back convertible roof murmuring into a megaphone: “where I come from this happens in the ghettos every night.”

    Nearby, a hairy David Hvistendal, lurking in the shadows is taking license numbers and calculating litigation profits….

    and dissolve to…

    AERIAL SHOT: Pulling back from a crowd of Christian Right locals praying in unison from atop the Community National Bank Building…. the camera booms up and back… farther and farther leaving a smoldering Northfield, fading into the sunset.

    vs

    July 22, 2007
  49. kiffi summa said:

    Hmmmmmm……….. Merged threads.
    Maybe it is Fox News.

    July 22, 2007
  50. Scott Oney said:

    Without LG coverage of the heroin story, which began on June 22, who knows when the story would have broken out in the more mainstream media. It would have eventually; perhaps after a cluster of deaths due to overdose, or perhaps when the number of daily users in Northfield began to approach the numbers implied by Chief Smith at his now notorious press conference.

    I’ve been grumbling about heroin sales in Northfield for more than a year now, although mostly only over the dinner table. But who else was there to complain to? The do-nothing Northfield cops?

    Once LG provided the forum, there was really no stopping the story. Facts came out within a couple of weeks that the Northfield News hadn’t been able to uncover in 3 years, and the disgraced local police department is now under close scrutiny. This wouldn’t have been possible if we had to get permission to speak from some city official or an editor up in Minneapolis or St. Paul.

    July 22, 2007
  51. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks, Scott. Overall, I do think that this whole saga has been good for the community, and I’m pleased with the role we’ve been able to play throughout. I think Northfield DOES have a significant drug problem among our youth that’s greater than in other southern Minnesota towns.

    That said, I’m ready to shift to other topics, and the humor here is a great way to make that transition. I’m trying to do my part with this new blog post.

    I promise to let up once a Google search on the words ‘Northfield’ and ‘heroin’ surpasses 200,000 hits. We’re close, standing at 189,00 as of 1:30 pm today.

    C’mon people, let’s pull together on this. We can do it!

    July 22, 2007
  52. Christine Stanton said:

    Well said, Griff! (#52)

    July 22, 2007
  53. Randy Jennings said:

    Griff,

    Just when I was ready to move on, you throw out the lines that really nailed the “problem” for me.

    You wrote: “Overall, I do think that this whole saga has been good for the community, and I’m pleased with the role we’ve been able to play throughout. I think Northfield DOES have a significant drug problem among our youth that’s greater than in other southern Minnesota towns.”

    Personally, I think this whole debacle has been a disaster for the community, primarily because it has given too many people with no stake in our town or in the lives of its citizens, an opportunity to misrepresent us. LG has played a role for good and for ill over the past three weeks. The good has been in the opportunity for a range of ordinary people to speak. The ill has been the reckless pace with which the conversation has proceeded, often without any real information or factual data.

    I’d argue it like this: 1) NORTHFIELD does NOT have a raging drug problem. We don’t have junkies in dark alleys, we don’t have used needles littering the streets, we don’t have drug-related violence. We know that we don’t have these particular problems because we can look at public records and we find that either our police force is incredibly good and proactive, or the underlying drug-related criminal behavior doesn’t exist, or more likely, some of both. We have apparently had an uptick in petty theft and burglary. This is annoying to the victims, to be sure, but the increase is only glaring against the incredibly low numbers we have enjoyed in the past.

    2) It is clear that SOME PEOPLE IN NORTHFIELD have drug (and alcohol, and so on) problems for which it appears the community does not currently have enough of the right treatment options. That is a situation that some people have seen coming, and which we (the Northfield community) could have been more proactive in addressing. It is certainly one we can respond to more thoroughly and compassionately now.

    But we have wasted incredible amounts of human energy responding to mischaracterizations of our community, when the fundamental drug and alcohol problems are really individual.

    Which brings me to your comment, Griff. I don’t know what constitutes the boundaries of citizen journalism, but I cannot imagine that it would allow a statement like yours without a clear label that this is the writer’s unsubstantiated opinion, and should not be confused with factual reporting. Maybe that is an assumed rule of the road in the blogosphere, but unfortunately in this instance, the entire cascade of misrepresentation has been triggered by incomplete disclosures at the front end.

    For example, in your statement that you “think Northfield DOES have a significant drug problem among our youth greater than that of other southern Minnesota towns.” Really? Greater than other towns? On what basis? The one thing that the past three weeks has shown is how damaging such an unsupported statement can be.

    Maybe if you’d said it this way, it would be more accurate and invite less uninformed pick-up by other people and other media:

    “Based on NO FACTUAL DATA FROM ANY SOURCE, anecdotal reports suggest that our community is really pretty normal in the range of problems with which its citizens cope, but I think that the scale of our problems is more significant than other towns in our region because they aren’t talking about such problems on THEIR blogs.”

    Then we’d know that it is your unsubstantiated opinion, not to be confused with an authoritative news source, which might reasonably be expected to provide comparison data of drug-related crimes and treatment program utilization across other southern Minnesota towns. (But, just because we — the readers — might reasonably expect this, does not mean that a “legit” news outlet would do this legwork, either… Instead, we’re more likely to get “reporting” about your reporting, even though you’ve said you don’t consider yourself a reporter… That’s been the cycle.)

    Now I’ll move on to the Pottermania and Taste of Northfield threads, which I believe, based on NO FACTUAL DATA, are far, far more representative of this community, and the range of people within it.

    Respectfully,

    Randy

    July 22, 2007
  54. Anne Bretts said:

    Thank you, Randy!
    It seems like the most important issue raised over the last month hasn’t been addressed at all, and that’s the need for the city and other officials to have reliable data presented in a routine way to track problems and prevent a repeat of this wave of conflicting speculation. How else will we know whether things are better or worse in six months — or whether any of the efforts now being undertaken are worth continuing?
    I don’t buy the argument that there’s no way to do it. Other communities do it all the time.
    It also seems that we don’t need the media or anyone else to demand that such a system be created and used. Concerned citizens can lead the way. Now that’s a new discussion worth having.

    July 22, 2007
  55. David Ludescher said:

    I had not assumed, nor do I think that I have the right to expect, that the postings on Locally Grown are factual in nature. In that respect, I have appreciated Locally Grown’s coverage.

    People assume, and have the right to expect that the City’s chief law enforcement officer would provide us information based upon sound evidence.

    Unfortunately, most of us now believe that the information being posted here is more reliable than the information given at the press conference. As fond as I have become of Locally Grown, that has to change.

    July 23, 2007
  56. Scott Oney said:

    Randy (Post #54),

    I think some people may have gotten the idea that there’s a significant drug problem in Northfield relative to other similar towns because of some information that’s been coming out in newsletters over the past year. I get the PCN newsletters, and they’ve been reporting statistics from some high school survey and pointing out that Northfield’s percentages for drug and alcohol use are significantly higher than Faribault’s, in some cases about twice as high. I can never keep PCN and HCI straight; there seems to be a lot of overlap, so I’m not sure who’s guilty of putting these numbers out. But are you dismissing this information as mere stuff and nonsense to be expected in the blogosphere, or do you think it’s more a deliberate attempt at scaremongering?

    July 23, 2007
  57. Griff Wigley said:

    Randy, listen to the first 5 minutes or so of this audio from last week’s city council/school board meeting:

    Captain Roger Schroeder’s been on the five-county South Central Drug Task Force for ten years, commander of it for 7 years. Here’s an excerpt from his remarks:

    “I believe that there is a heroin slash Oxycontin issue here in Northfield that seems to be specific to Northfield… in our particular region it seems like for whatever reason we have what I would believe to be a higher than average, whatever that is, use of heroin and Oxycontin.”

    I don’t understand why you label my take as “unsubstantiated opinion” and based on “NO FACTUAL DATA FROM ANY SOURCE.” Whatever you think of Captain Schroeder, I don’t think his remarks can be easily dismissed.

    And after a month of listening to people on all sides of this issue, I think a comment on my own blog is a legitimate place for me to express my opinion, not as an authoritative news source/reporter, just as a citizen blogger who’s trying to handle this issue responsibly.

    July 23, 2007
  58. Christine Stanton said:

    I am wondering if part of the problem here is the perception of what heroin use use looks like.

    As Randy said, “I’d argue it like this: 1) NORTHFIELD does NOT have a raging drug problem. We don’t have junkies in dark alleys, we don’t have used needles littering the streets, we don’t have drug-related violence.”

    That perception might not be accuratre. I do not think anyone is saying that we have these things going on. For some, because we don’t, they do not see that heroin use is a problem.

    Scott, I appreciate your post #57. I believe that the statistics quoted in the PCN newsletters come from those who do know what is going on. Also, Sarah Shippy (sp?) and the treatment centers in our area see the problem first hand. The PCN newsletters came out long before the media frenzy. Should the HCI/PCN not be blamed for “fear-mongering” and “community sabotage” too? The problem is that nobody listens to what they are saying.

    As Griff said, “C’mon people, let’s pull together on this. We can do it!”

    July 23, 2007
  59. Christine Stanton said:

    Just a reminder that there is a League of Women Voters meeting tonight at 7:00 at the library. As an interesting sidenote, the topic of this meeting was decided upon well before the “media frenzy.”

    July 23, 2007
  60. Randy Jennings said:

    Griff,
    Absolutely agreed that it’s your blog, and you can/should say what you wish. But we’ve seen other media refer to Locally Grown as a source of information, not just opinion. I do not in any way think you are responsible for lazy reporting by other media, but I also don’t think you can diminish or dismiss the impact of what is said here. It takes no imagination at all to see another media outlet reporting that “according to the Northfield blog, Locally Grown, Northfield’s drug problems are significantly greater than those of other southern Minnesota towns.” I doubt you would be comfortable with such an attribution, but it does suggest that perhaps on this issue more fact and less opinion would be helpful.

    I don’t dismiss Captain Schroeder’s remarks at all. He seemed quite reasonable at that meeting last week. But the facts he reported don’t support your claim that our problems are worse than other communities. He noted that over the past several years there have been an average of 2-3 heroin-related arrests in the entire south-central drug task force district (roughly here to the Iowa border). In 2006 there were ZERO arrests, and none to date in 2007. (He said some 2-3 arrests are pending yet this year.) So, his factual data says that we don’t have an escalating criminal problem, even if his opinion is that we do.

    This is very separate from the question of whether there are people in our community who have problems with drug use and drug abuse. There clearly are, as there are in almost any community. Whether it is a big number or a small one, whether it concentrated in youth or adults, people need help.

    If we go back to the original headline about drug use at Northfield High School or to other opinions (not necessarily yours) that have amplified the drug related problems without providing any factual support, speed (the keyboard kind, not the pharmaceutical kind) is a dangerous element of the blogosphere.

    Randy

    July 23, 2007
  61. Curt Benson said:

    Forgive me for not remembering the exact numbers or a having a link to where this information appeared–but don’t we have some numbers that aren’t disputed about the students treated for chemical dependency during the last school year?

    IIRC, the school says 30 students were treated for chemical issues during the last school year, 15 of them for heroin/oxy specifically.

    I disagree that heroin in Northfield is a “nonstory” or “fear mongering” or the problem of a few individuals. Fifteen students is a lot. I’m guessing for every student who reaches the treatment stage, there are more that haven’t reached that stage.

    There seems to be several ways (at least) of looking at this issue.

    1-Chief Smith is a hero for revealing this problem, the problem involves hundreds of Northfield’s young people.

    2-Chief Smith is unhinged, there is no problem in Northfield, or at least it’s no worse here than elsewhere.

    3-Chief Smith is unhinged, but the heroin problem he publicized is real, but probably not to the extent that he said.

    I go for #3.

    (If anyone can link to the school’s data on the number of students treated last year or correct my numbers, please do so.)

    July 23, 2007
  62. David Ludescher said:

    Getting information like the Hazelden Report is what sets Locally Grown apart from everyone else on this story.

    July 23, 2007
  63. Griff Wigley said:

    Randy, it’s not just my claim. It’s Capt. Schroeder’s claim. And he didn’t just cite arrest facts. He cited crime, treatment and money-allocation stats, as well as undercover investigation info to back up his claim.

    I think it’s fine to argue that this as not credible enough. But I don’t see how I’m being irresponsible by saying I think it is.

    I think Strib columnist Nick Coleman was irresponsible for perpetuating the myths about heroin users:

    I looked around. Just a sunny summer day in the city of cows, colleges and whatever the heck is happening. Not a syringe or a needle in sight. Nobody lying motionless on the sidewalk, either.

    Everything we’ve been hearing since this began, including my interviews with users, teachers, and parents, says that it’s quite common for heroin users to appear normal and function as usual.

    Why not take Coleman to task for this?

    July 23, 2007
  64. David Ludescher said:

    Carol Falkowski’s report doesn’t provide much of a clue as to how she came to the conclusion of heroin “addiction” among high school students in Northfield. She doesn’t cite her data source.

    July 24, 2007
  65. Anne Bretts said:

    David, if you go back to the beginning of this whole controversy, that was the point. She made an anecdotal point buried in a report, which got buried in a short Pioneer Press story, which got quoted here (and read by other media), which then exploded everywhere.
    Her last MPR interview also indicated she was just making a mention to note she’d heard anecdotal reports. That kind of reference is used in reports to see whether anyone else has heard the same thing, which can indicate whether there’s need for more study.
    Maybe she’ll have more on the MPR show today.

    July 24, 2007
  66. Randy Jennings said:

    David,

    Great question (#68). If you actually take the time to read the section of the Hazelden report titled Data Sources, you will see that the quantitative data cited in Ms. Falkowski’s study comes from metro area surveys or extrapolations of consortial studies. Unless I’ve missed something (which is always possible) there appear to be NO formal, quantitative data sources that include Rice County, much less Northfield. There is one comment that says “additional information” was collected through interviews with drug treatment workers, law enforcement and school officials. So it is entirely possible that Northfield was singled out for special mention because of ancedotal reports from one or more individuals, not from any systematic gathering of verifiable data that could be consistently compared to similar studies in other communities.

    Obviously this does not mean we are free of drug-related issues. But it may mean that the hysteria has not been entirely justified.

    Randy

    July 24, 2007
  67. Curt Benson said:

    After listening to the MPR program, I think we need to ask for Ms. Falkowski’s help and learn from the experience of St. Charles, Illinois.

    Randy, I don’t know if comparing Northfield to other cities or requiring more exact statistics on something that may be too slippery to quantify exactly is useful now. For me, 15 students treated for heroin/oxy at NHS in the 2006-2007 is really serious. You can put as not quite hysterical, but leaning that way.

    P.S. Listen to the show:

    http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2007/07/24/midday1/

    July 24, 2007
  68. Anne Bretts said:

    Curt, without numbers how will we know what’s working and whether the problem is better or worse in six months or a year. If we were tracking West Nile Virus or lyme disease or smoking, we would not all be freaking out about a number. Not everyone who picks up a cigarette gets addicted. Not all smokers are addicted, not all birds that die of the WNV are found. But we have learned to get workable estimates and use them judiciously.
    Just get the experts to agree on the best possible estimate, know that it’s not perfect, set a goal for reducing the number and start working.

    July 24, 2007
  69. David Ludescher said:

    Falkowski’s show essentially verified that her evidence of heroin addiction was coming from chemical dependency counselors, i.e. Additional Sources. It is unclear how many such reports she received. You should note that her report also indicates that, “Law enforcement officials remain watchful for a heroin mix known as “cheese” …

    I recall that the number “15” came from Superintendent Richardson. This number appears not to not have been a surprise to him, nor to the police chief (15 was the reported treatment numbers, not usage numbers). Nor does it appear that the number was significant enough to cause any alarm prior to the report of the 150-250.

    Consequently, it would appear that public officials thought that the matter was under control until Locally Grown aired the story here. It would be interesting to know what, if any, plan there was. There is no sense in developing a new plan if there was already a plan in place.

    July 24, 2007
  70. Curt Benson said:

    Falkowski said that she received a number of calls from people in the treatment facilities asking “what’s going on in Northfield”? She didn’t say how many calls. She also said she’s surprised there haven’t been any overdoses yet.

    The number fifteen (which I think we can agree is a real number) may seem low in light of the numbers Smith talked about in his press conference–but what’s the magic number before a community takes action? 16? 30? –when it’s your kid or someone you know’s kid?

    July 24, 2007
  71. Scott Oney said:

    Curt,

    No overdoses yet? Did she really say that? I didn’t hear the program, so I don’t know what Ms. Falkowski was basing her statement on, but I at least remember rumors flying of a death due to overdose about a year and a half ago–I’m thinking sometime in January 2006. If there was no basis for the rumors, I apologize for bringing this up. But if there’s something to it, it would be courageous for someone with knowledge of what would surely have been a tragic death to shed some light on it.

    July 24, 2007
  72. David Ludescher said:

    I’m not sure what meaningful community action we can take that wasn’t already being taken before the press conference.

    According to Griff, Chief Smith verified the heroin problem. The School Superintendent was not alone aware, and appears to have the only credible numbers to date.

    So, let’s have them tell us what they were planning on doing before this story/non-story broke. They should have a much better perspective.

    July 24, 2007
  73. Christine Stanton said:

    David and all,

    I am not sure what efforts were underway by the school district, other than having Sarah Shippy, a drug and alchohol abuse counselor on site part time.

    I do know that the Northfield Mayor’s Task Force on Drug and Alchohol Abuse was stated in the spring of 2006 because of the data that was collected by the State of Minnesota and the PCN surveys. Both of these surveys were given to Northfield students.

    The Rice County Public Health Services began the Rice County Chemical Health Coalition (Project Prevention) to address the problem. This coalition began in 2004.

    More information on both of these efforts can be found on the HCI website.
    http://www.northfieldhci.org/
    (See second paragraph on home page to click on PDF or Word document.)

    After being at one of their meetings and hearing representatives from the Mayor’s Task Force speak at the League of Women Voters meeting last night, I have been very impressed by their efforts to collaborate with multiple resources and their implementations thus far. The ZAP program is one example. If you do not know what the ZAP program is, I encourage you to visit the HCI website and links to find out more.

    July 24, 2007
  74. Susan Ecklund said:

    I have a couple of general questions that I’m hoping someone can answer for me.

    1. Does the number of 15 high school students referred this year for treatment for heroin or Oxycontin abuse come completely from Northfield High School, or does it include high school students who attend either the ALC or ArTech?

    2. If the “15” does NOT include ALC or ArTech students, does anyone know the parallel numbers for those schools?

    3. On the Locally Grown radio show a couple of weeks ago, Chris Richardson described the process that is in place at the high school to identify kids who seem to be having serious problems and refer them for chemical dependency evaluations. Is the same process used at the ALC and ArTech? I have heard that Sara Shippy of Omada sees kids at the ALC, but I don’t know if she also goes to ArTech, or if someone else fulfills a similar function at that school.

    These seem like important pieces of information, both for the community at large and for parents who are trying to find a relatively safe school setting for their children. I would greatly appreciate finding out specific information on any of these topics.

    July 24, 2007
  75. Curt Benson said:

    Scott, she might have said “deaths” not “overdoses”. I’ll try to listen again tomorrow and get back to you.

    David, I’m not sure what meaningful community action we can take either. Falkowski talked about St. Charles, Illinois. IIRC, she said St. Charles is an affluent town of 25,000, 25 miles west of Chicago. The young people were going to Chicago for heroin and other drugs. There were some 13 deaths around 2000. She said the community came up with some sort of plan, and that it succeeded in some way. The show didn’t go into any depth about what they did or how success was measured. (I put that last sentence in there for you, Anne.) Why not bring Ms. Falkowski to Northfield for a town meeting?

    I’d like to hear other’s reactions to the Falkowski program. Anyone?

    July 24, 2007
  76. Curt Benson said:

    Scott, I listened to the MPR show again this am and will try to quote Ms.Falkowski as best I can:

    “….the downside to untreated addiction can be death…. It’s just a miracle to me that no one has overdosed in Northfield to date.”

    Also, quoting–maybe answering the “is Northfield different?” question:

    Falkowski talks about how she tracks drug trends, particularly heroin: “….it really didn’t show up until earlier this year when I started getting calls from treatment providers asking “what’s up with Northfield?” ….they said we’re getting some kids from Northfield and they’re addicted to heroin…this was the first discernible outbreak in Minnesota that I’ve become aware.”

    July 25, 2007
  77. Randy Jennings said:

    Curt,

    My reaction to the Falkowski radio show was the old saying, “to a carpenter every problem looks like a nail.” As I listened I had a mild whiplash. She had many good observations and suggestions followed by alarmist generalizations.

    When we sit around the coffee shop and kvetch about what’s going on in town, it’s is fine to say that we’ve heard from “a number of people” that this or that is true. It’s fine to chatter about speculation from “unnamed sources.” But when a serious researcher singles out a specific community based on unspecified “additional information,” or when the chief of police trots out numbers dramatically different than the experience of other professionals and the available factual data, then I’d say the first burden of journalists, bloggers and even kvetchers in the coffee shop is to ask, is this factually accurate? If accurate, then we can respond, both to the news and to the underlying problem. But if the information is merely an individual’s opinion, unsupported by fact — however well intentioned — then it may warrant a very different, lower-key response. If that question had been asked a month ago, we would have had a very different, less inflammatory, debate.

    Curt, you may think that focusing on the accuracy of the numbers misses the point of the dangers of drug use, abuse and addiction (by themselves three separate issues) to the young people of our community. I completely agree on an individual level. But if we’re talking about shaping public policy, about funding social services, or about tarnishing the reputation of a community, then accurate research and verifiable numbers are essential. If we can’t get all of the relevant players to agree about how we define (quantitatively) the problem, we won’t be focusing our energy and our resources as thoughtfully as we should. Instead we will find ourselves doing more, wihtout necessarily having a direct impact on the problems we want to diminish.

    Randy

    July 25, 2007