Monthly Archives: October 2014

Girls Explore Creative Coding at Katie DoJo

Since my return from the Code for America 2014 Summit I have replayed – virtually and literally – the images of the presenters. [One image keeps recurring – the image of creative young women working with users to craft techie tools that solve real-life human needs. For so many of these young women the story was not so much about the tool but about the ways in which the app improved someone’s life. That implicit purpose seemed uniquely explicit in the presentations of dozens of young female coders.

To wit: In Detroit one young woman delved into the water shut-off mess and created an app that group sourced rapid recovery assistance from around the world. A young woman from Chicago developed an app that eased the way for young felons to expunge their criminal record, freeing them to get a job, to find an apartment, to vote. In Somerville, Massachusetts it was a team of young women who created an ethnic festival that engaged all of that diverse community. [ The videos of these and all of the scores of coder presentations are posted online for easy viewing.]

So it’s not surprising that Katie CoderDojo, in spite of the inscrutable title, caught my eye during a recent visit to the campus of St. Catherine University..

The idea behind Katie CoderDojo is that girls and young women ages 8-16 will spread their creative coding wings in a special supportive environment.

Katie CoderDojo is a joint project of the National Center for STEM Elementary Education and the Master of Library and Information Science programs at St. Catherine’s. The CSU project is a partner program of Code Savvy, a Minnesota nonprofit.

The next Katie CoderDojo is set for Sunday, October 19, 2:00-4:00 p.m. Room 19 in the Coeur de Catherine building on the CSU Campus, 2004 Randolph at Cleveland in St. Paul. Future sessions are set for November 16 and December 14. These first sessions will include introductions to Scratch and Appinventor. There is no free for participants. For girls under 13 parents are asked to remain on site.

For more information or to register click here:



It’s National Newspaper Week — Read On!

Half of the American people never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President  One hopes it is the same half. Gore Vidal

 If you’re a tweeter, texter, app-addicted news junkie you may be blissfully unaware that this very week, October 5-11, 2014, is the 74th Annual National Newspaper Week.   Moreover Tuesday, October 7, is the first ever National News Engagement Day.

 Clearly the two commemorations relate and promote a common message. Still, they differ in focus. National Newspaper Week celebrates the nation’s democratic tradition of a free press that doesn’t just report the news but that holds both the nation’s leaders and the newspaper’s readers accountable for a robust democracy. The day of engagement, sponsored by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, focuses on promoting Americans’ engagement with the news as a national priority.

So where do newspapers fit in and why do we need a week, or even a day, to stem the rising tide of disengagement.   Robert Williams, President of the National Newspaper Association, observes that “newspapers sound the alarm with swift, accurate and thorough coverage when sensitive issues arise. We provide not just facts but clearly labeled editorials to help everyone weigh matters with sufficient information. We pay attention. We laugh. We cry. We hurt. We rejoice. We care. We share the pain and shed tears along with our readers. That is what well-run newspapers do.”

To be sure legacy newspapers – the ones that used to roll off the presses – are in distress.   Competition from formats that require less cost to produce and less time to “consume”, coupled with dramatic loss of advertising income have led to massive layoffs of investigative reporters, shifts in ownership, and plummeting reader confidence. The most recent Pew Research Center biennial news consumption survey identified 29% of young adults as “newsless”…..which ironically does rhyme with “clueless”.

What’s more, a recent Gallup poll reveals that Americans’ confidence in news media is at a record low. Far more troubling is a study conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. More troubling by far, the same study found that more than one-third of Americans are opposed to freedom of the press when it comes to stories concerning national security.

One appropriate way to observe Newspaper Week is to reflect on the role and tradition of this nation’s free press. What immediately comes to mind is the diversity. Just as the communities they reflect and inform are unique, each newspaper has its own special character, each news person reflects his or her own take on the task.

Consider the unique role of rural press: A recent study of rural Oklahomans 42.2% of respondents turned to their local newspaper as their primary source of information. Researchers concluded that “even in this age of endless Facebook feeds and dizzying arrays of other social media options, the good ol’ newspaper still has a beloved place in many rural residents’ hearts.”   One might suggest that the newspaper retains a beloved place in rural residents’ minds, as well — recent political decisions by Minnesota’s rural voters were no doubt influenced by the editorial positions of this state’s strong rural press.

Community presses also play a unique role as community builders, helping to define a community and carve out a market in mobile world in which geography is not the determinant of community. Keith Anderson, director of news at ECM Publishers in Coon Rapids, MN, looks at community newspapers with a his own lens: “Community journalism isn’t about paper and ink or websites and unique visitors….Community journalism is a living, breathing, shared connection of people that propels us to take chances, to realize that life is not always safe, clean and tidy, but that, through our connection, there is plenty to celebrate and adventures to explore.”

In the digital age we tend to forget the person who hatched the idea, ferreted out the facts, selected the words to tell the story – and fit the available column space. American Newspaper Association President Williams gives pause for thought when he observes that “newspapering is a job in the same sense that being a father or mother is a ‘job.’ Parents are responsible for the well-being of their family. Good newspapers take on that role with the communities we serve.”

Finally, lest you think that National Newspaper Week and National News Engagement Day are pedantic, even quaint, occasions of note, check out the lighter touch offered by the Poynter Institute:

The fun facts and stories there will remind you just how human – and humorous – the newspaper industry is.




Timely Data Reduces Risk for American Workers

This is a belated Labor Day good news post. It’s the story of how one federal agency is putting critical data into the hands of workers who can use digital tools to hold employers immediately and effectively accountable for workplace safety

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency responsible for the workplace safety of millions of Americans, has stepped to the plate to give employees a better tool to watchdog their own work environment.

Observing that workplace injuries – and fatalities – are often preventable, Thomas Perez, who heads the Department of Labor, home of OSHA, is certain that the new rule will “help OSHA focus its resources and hold employers accountable for preventing them.”

The new rule takes a double-barreled approach:

First, the rule requires that employers notify OSHA within 24 hours when someone is injured – loses an eye, or a limb or is admitted to the hospital with a work related injury. Currently employers are required to report only incidents that result in “catastrophes,” i.e. incidents that result in three or more hospitalizations.

Second, the reports of injuries will be made public on OSHA’s website. In 2013 that would have meant prompt reporting of 3,929 workers who died in private industry workplace accidents.

The idea behind the immediate reporting and posting of the data is to expand access to the dangers on the part of employers and employees alike – to “embarrass” employers and to offer workers current and accessible data on workplace safety.

Though worker safety is the priority, there are economic benefits as well to what is being called the “name and shame” approach. Armed with data, workers themselves can spot problems and demand action. Writing in Bloomberg Businessweek Josh Eidelson notes the critical need for more eyes on the front lines: “Since 1981, OSHA has shed health and safety inspectors to cut costs while the number of U.S. employers has doubled, according to the Center for Effective Government. A report from the group estimated that at current staffing levels, it would take federal OSHA inspectors 131 years to visit every U.S workplace.”

This led me to the CEG website where I found an analysis of a complementary resource issued by the Department of Labor in conjunction with Workers’ Memorial Day last April 28th. Sofia Plagakis of CEG has plumbed the depths of the Department of Labor’s Online Enforcement database. (

Don’t judge a database by its less than compelling title. In fact, the Online Enforcement database is a treasure trove of DOL data, including OSHA data on 100,000 inspections conducted annually, violations, citations, penalties and accident investigation data.

Other agency programs included in the merged database include reports from four agency divisions:

  • Wage and Hour Division – violations, back-wage amounts, number of employees due back wages, civil penalties assessed;
  • Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program – evaluations and compliant investigations;
  • Employee Benefits and Security Administration – data about enforcement efforts related to funding and investments of 800,000 retirement and welfare benefits plans; and
  • Mine Safety and Health Administration – data about mines, mine operators, inspections, violations and accidents.

Though the wheels of federal government may grind slowly, they do grind exceeding small. And it does behoove us to capitalize on the efforts, particularly when we think about the thousands of Americans who are directly affected by the data that the Department of Labor has put at our fingertips.