'Pivoting' makes it sound easy, this week was work
Right off the bat, I want to let everyone know that this is not what I envision Late Edition will look like every week. The pivot to this page was a surprise, and so I spent the week tying up loose ends from the Gazette, laying the groundwork for future projects, analyzing and adjusting my finances, and most importantly, showing gratitude.
The outpouring of emotional support I’ve received has been overwhelming, and I took as much time as I could to make sure I responded to it all with gratitude. I have found that showing gratitude whenever possible is one of the keys to unlocking consistent happiness in life, and I highly recommend it.
And so I’d also like to thank each of you, both new and old subscribers, for being here and starting this journey with me, too. This wouldn’t be happening without you.
On that note, I’d also like to recognize that my audience has grown at an explosive rate this week . This is great, but whereas I used to know most of my subscribers by name, I now have little idea who most of you are, or what you’re interested in reading about.
At the bottom of this newsletter, there will be a link to the first Late Edition Reader Survey. I have a variety of questions on there, mostly aiming to find out what you would like to see in Late Edition moving forward. I hope each of you will at least consider offering me some feedback.
This was a busy week, with a lot of things to touch on. What follows is what I’ve pulled together, some original reporting, some links to important information or stories that others have written, some updates on projects.
Most of the stories deserve more work. Unfortunately, my week has been so scattered between so many things I don’t feel like I did them justice. I’m hoping the results of the reader survey will give me better focus moving forward, so I can report more completely on what you’re interested in, and leave some other stuff out.
And since they’re usually blue, I’d like to quickly point out that anything underlined is a link to an offsite source.
For those of you who don’t already know me, my name is Joshua Vissers. I was formerly the Associate Editor of the Daily Mining Gazette for two years. I’m originally from the Grand Rapids, Michigan area, and I hold a bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism from Grand Valley State University.
I do my best to follow the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. I’m also a current member of Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Michigan Press Association, and soon to be a member of the Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism(their membership policy is still in development).
Nonprofit News Source
This is probably the most long term, but also most exciting, thing that I’m working on. I’ve been reading the ‘Starting a Nonprofit News Organization’ guide on the Institute for Nonprofit News’ website. It gives a pretty thorough step-by-step guide on how to develop a model and launch a nonprofit news source.
I’d like to form a committee, or perhaps a larger group of brain-stormers, to work on the model and develop the nonprofit together. I’ll take the lead, but I don’t want to be the arbiter of nonprofit news. Depending on how many people are interested, we’ll figure out how to communicate and meet (safely).
I’ve also sent a letter of interest to the Tiny News Collective. They’ve stated the intention of helping launch 200 nonprofit newsrooms in the next five years. I’m hoping they’ll see fit to help us, too.
If you’re aware of other opportunities, and I’m sure there are more, make sure you’re part of the group so we can all discuss them together. There’s a question in the reader survey to sign up.
I’ll only include minimal updates and reminders about this in Late Edition in the future.
One of the things I criticized Ogden-owned newspapers for was our publishing of uncontextualized COVID-19 infection and death numbers on the front page. Simply posting new, updated totals each day really isn’t showing anyone anything about the speed or danger of infection.
While printing this information in the Gazette isn’t quite so easy, I did find a much better online source for COVID-19 visuals that adds much better context.
This is a screen capture from the Houghton County page of usafacts.org. You can also easily take a look at state and national level data on the same site. Graphs on usafacts.org are interactive, and the data is also downloadable.
While this data is still mostly uncontextualized, having ‘New Known Cases’, instead of total cases, graphed over time gives a better picture of how the local epidemic is growing day by day. Having it right next to the graph of deaths also makes it easy to compare infection and death rates.
The State of Michigan also has fairly thorough data posted online, but it isn’t quite as easy to navigate or understand.
I’m hoping to take a deeper dive into the local course and impacts of COVID-19 in the coming weeks, and finding better visuals for the data was step one.
Baraga County puts Michigan “on notice”
After Monday’s board of commissioners meeting in Baraga County, the sheriff posted this to his Facebook page:
While courts did invalidate many of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 mandates as unlawful, Michigan courts have upheld COVID-19 measures ordered by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services as valid and binding.
The manifesto was not discussed in the board’s preceding meeting whatsoever. The meeting was only about 30 minutes long. They handled routine business, discussed and passed a resolution encouraging county residents to support local hospitality businesses through ordering takeout food, buying gift cards, or making advance reservations, and adjourned. Because the document is a non-binding “manifesto”, and not a resolution, ordinance, or other official county document, it likely avoided violating the Open Meetings Act.
UpperMichiganSource.com reported that Sheriff Brogan said the manifesto was an expression of opinion. State agencies still have the power to levy fines and revoke licenses in the county.
On January 15, the Baraga County Memorial Hospital released this letter. Among other things, it states, “Though the county officials are entitled to their opinions, we want to clearly state that this Manifesto in no way requires BCMH to change its practices.”
The letter also points out that Baraga County’s deaths-per-person is the highest in the state. According to data from the state, Baraga County’s case death rate is 6%, while the statewide average is only 2.6%
Houghton County Commissioners January meeting anything but regular
The Houghton County Board grabbed attention Tuesday night with an eventful meeting. It included a Q&A with Dominion Voting Systems representative Kurt Knowles, disagreement among the board on both a resolution penned in Delta County and funding for the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, and comments from several community members and board members both supporting WUPHD and businesses who have remained in non-compliance with the MDHHS COVID-19 regulations.
[I released my raw audio recording of the meeting to Soundcloud earlier this week, but here is a link to my transcription on Otter, too. It has the audio, but also an automatically-generated transcript. The transcript, including attributions, is NOT 100% accurate, but it serves as an excellent way of finding the section of audio you are interested in hearing.]
The first activity of note in the meeting came about nine minutes in.
“At that time when we met with the sheriff they had four or five people had been out with COVID-related issues,” Commissioner Roy Britz reported to the board. “One was still, at that time.”
He went on to say that the sheriff’s staff is all back and healthy now, but they are continuing to monitor staff. Later in the meeting City Manager Ben Larson said that some sheriff’s department members had already begun receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
The board approved the pandemic pay personnel policy — which grants extra sick days in the event a county employee catches COVID-19 — but not without discussion.
“Because if an employee decides not to do the vaccine, and it's been offered to them, and then they get COVID or family members gets COVID then to me that shouldn't apply,” Commissioner Glenn Anderson said.
Newly-reappointed Chairperson Al Koskela said he believed that is how the proposed policy was worded, but Anderson didn’t think so.
Commissioner Britz said there should be an exception to the rule, in case a person can’t take the vaccine due to allergies or other medical conditions, which Commissioner Anderson agreed with.
They voted to pass the policy, as presented, unanimously with the understanding that the policy would likely be changed or repealed at some time in the future.
Twenty-five minutes into the recording, Chairperson Koskela turned the floor over to Kurt Knowles, a representative of The Election Source in Grand Rapids, which is the local reseller for Dominion Voting Equipment.
“I personally am the representative for 27 counties, the 15 UP counties, plus 12 counties in northern lower Michigan that also use the Dominion equipment,” Knowles said. “Yes, one of those counties is Antrim County.”
Knowles said he did the training for the city and township clerks for the Dominion equipment. At Commissioner Anderson’s request, he reviewed what happened in Antrim County that caused people to believe the results had been hacked.
“They're wonderful people,” Knowles said of the Antrim County clerk staff. “I've known them, I've worked with them for 20-some years, but they're just not real techie.”
He explained that a last-minute change in a couple ballot questions required an update that has to be delivered via hardware because the equipment is not connected to the internet when used in Michigan. Without the update, the numbers didn’t align right when posted to the internet, but the county clerks hadn’t checked it after posting it at 4 a.m..
“And unfortunately, they posted it and went home because they were tired,” Knowles said.
He said the problem was caught and fixed swiftly, and the results have been audited three times and also did a hand recount.
“I want to say, Trump went up by nine votes and, and Biden, I think, got two or three more,” Knowles said. “Very minor to the whole thing.”
He said rumors of Chinese hacking couldn’t be accurate because none of the hardware used in the voting system is ever connected to the internet. Any information transfer is done by mailing password-locked USB drives, with the passwords being sent in separate packages. Later, when answering questions, he said there are seals over any ports that could be used for an internet connection when the machines are used in Michigan.
“If it's never hooked to the internet, the Chinese would have to come in person, I guess, and hack it,” Knowles said.
At about the 38-minute mark, Chairman Koskela turned the floor over to Erik Kiilunen to question Knowles.
Kiilunen requested the names of the programmers who set up the configuration of Houghton County’s machines, including the spellings. He also had Knowles explain his role in the operation.
“I'm not a programmer, but I do gather a lot of the information, and then I help with proofing,” Knowles said.
Knowles said he also handles troubleshooting, training, and County Clerk Jennifer Kelly reminded him he also helped with arranging the language on the ballots.
Kiilunen then asked about who was responsible for defining the permutations of the ballots for the public accuracy tests. The manual for testing procedures is publicly available online, here.
The first real disagreement of the night came when discussion of a resolution recently passed by the Delta County Board of Commissioners began.
“I would like this resolution wording be changed from Delta County to Houghton County, and we furnish the same resolution,” Chairman Koskela said.
Commissioner Britz started discussion with a question.
“The term unconstitutional, where does that come from?” he asked.
Koskela pointed out that it said in the resolution that it was the Michigan Supreme Court.
“The Supreme Court ruled the Governor’s orders are unconstitutional, not the health department’s,” Britz replied.
When asked if he would be comfortable with moving forward if that language were revised, Britz pointed out it was repeated later in the resolution. He also objected to the language declaring the county a sanctuary, and called the statement of Lansing using the liquor control commission to advance a political agenda “speculation”.
“… in this country, you're innocent until proven guilty,” Britz said. “And unless someone can show me that the governor ordered those types of controls by those departments, I have problems with it.”
Commissioner Anderson said the language of the entire document was “very poorly written”. Pointing out it concluded by saying it did not have the power of, nor could it be used to avert Michigan Compiled Law.
“And again, I mean, everyone is frustrated, I get that. Everyone is frustrated…” he said. “Doesn’t matter who you are, but this kind of a poorly written resolution, I guess, I certainly couldn’t support.”
“I support everything in there except, no-one showing me where anything is unconstitutional or illegal, what's happening,” Commissioner Britz said. “I researched this. I brought the book. I've researched this for over a month now. And documentations that I have, and I can present to you as the board, shows that what the health department is doing is legal, constitutional.”
After having Kelly read the resolution out loud to the Zoom meeting attendees, Chairperson Koskela abruptly moved the meeting on to the next agenda item, budget appropriations for Copper Country Mental Health and the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department. Commissioner Anderson made a motion to approve both.
“I agree with the approving both of them,” Koskela said. “But I think we're going to hang on to the money for Western Upper Peninsula Health for a couple of weeks here.”
After a brief back and forth between Anderson and Koskela, Commissioner Britz pointed out that under the agreement the county could withhold the money from WUPHD, but that the health department would change fees charged to clients in the county to makeup the offset in their budget. He said that would punish the people of the county.
Commissioner Anderson said that the health department is the key driver of vaccine delivery in the county. He called holding funding at this time poor public policy.
“I disagree with that wholeheartedly,” Anderson said.
Koskela suggested WUPHD should be spending their time and money working on the vaccine instead of “harassing the business owners of this county.” He said businesses were “forcefully” shut down, and that the commissioners should forget politics and start sticking up for the local people.
Anderson pressured Koskela for the names of businesses shut down by WUPHD. Koskela named three, including “that restaurant on Fifth Street” in Calumet.
The back-and-forth between Koskela and Anderson lasted about two minutes, and started at about an hour and two minutes into the recording. I suggest you hear it for yourself. Koskela ramped up to calling a local health department employee a “Gestapo agent.”
Commissioner Britz interjected and pointed out that for WUPHD, purposely failing to enforce an order from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services could result in both civil and criminal penalties and a loss of funding for the department from the state of Michigan. He said he agreed it was wrong to be shutting the businesses down.
“But I worked in law enforcement for 38 years,” Britz said. “Black and white, what the laws are, in my mind is what it’s supposed to be. And until someone can tell me that what they’re doing is illegal, I have to support what the health—I’m going to support what the health department does. They’re doing a good job, they’re doing their responsibility.”
He said he agreed that businesses should be allowed to open and do business with those willing to go, but punishing people that work at the health department “is wrong”.
“The ones that are really getting punished are the ones that aren’t getting any income,” Koskela replied. “And the ones I’m talking about, the ones that are saying ‘just doing my job’, they’re getting paid.”
“But they’re also being harassed and bullied around,” Britz said.
He then asked about the person who has been photographed in front of Café Rosetta with a gun over his shoulder. Britz became animated and brought up the shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin and the deaths during the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
“When does this crap stop?” he asked Koskela.
The board motioned to vote on each of the appropriations individually. The motion for CCMH was unanimous. The vote for WUPHD funding was split 3-2. Commissioners Gretchen Janssen, Anderson and Britz in favor, and Commissioners Tom Tikkanen and Koskela against.
Then public comment was opened.
Barry Fink offered a resolution of support for WUPHD from the board of the League of Women Voters.
Horst Schmidt supported both WUPHD and testified to the integrity of poll workers and county and town clerks in their operation of elections. He also pointed out that there is stimulus money that has been coming available for businesses that may be in need.
Former District Judge Mark Wisti told the board that some of the resolutions they considered wouldn’t be effective.
“You cannot, by resolution, override state law. You cannot by resolution tell the sheriff’s department what to do,” he said. “You just can’t do that.”
Kiilunen was also given the floor for a second time. He took responsibility for the signatures in the Gazette ad “requesting our health department to back off our businesses.” He also said that he put “1,000 people in front of the sheriff in the courthouse to kind of just thank the sheriff for not creating headaches for us.”
Sheriff Brian McLean has reportedly called the situation involving Café Rosetta a ‘civil matter’ and that the sheriff’s department wouldn’t get involved unless they were called to a site to protect people.
Kiilunen said that the community could move forward and promote healing after the division of this matter “if our health department will leave our businesses alone that choose to open up without mandates…”
This is, of course, what Kiilunen’s group “All Business is Essential” has been demanding since its inception.
There were a handful of further comments from Chris DeForge, William Keith, Commissioner Tikkanen and Randy McClellan.
Koskela also announced a meeting at the courthouse with Michigan Senator Ed McBroom at 10 a.m. on Jan. 29, just before adjourning.
The only picture of the night worth seeing is this one:
Late Edition’s branding, and future
Everyone knows it’s important to have a great brand, right? I threw together this logo for Late Edition.
I also applied for my Michigan Press Association freelancer credential. It should be in the mail any day.
I previously turned down any offers of monetary support, largely because I didn’t feel good profiting personally from the situation that led to my resignation. A lot of people were made very unhappy for various reasons last week, and I would have felt absolutely sleazy for profiting from it in any way, regardless of my need.
That said, I could use financial support if I’m going to continue devoting a significant amount of time to Late Edition, and I truly appreciate those of you so willing to give that support that you sought me out to not only offer, but encourage me to accept.
I’ve come up with two options through which I would be comfortable accepting some money, there’s a question in the reader survey about it.
My first idea was offering “Late Edition” branded gear with the logo on it. If I’m selling a good with my own design on it, I would be okay accepting money in return, and I don’t think getting my logo out into the community would hurt, either. I’d also like a hat of my own to wear when out reporting.
The other option is to simply create a paid newsletter alongside this free one. I intend to put work into Late Edition every week from here forward, and I would not be opposed to getting paid for that, if that’s what readers want. Any subscriptions would be as non-binding as I can make them, and would keep me from having to take even more hours at another job. I don’t mind the work, but it keeps me from reporting.
I’d also like to make sure everyone has a clear distinction between Late Edition and the nonprofit news source that will be launching. Late Edition has been and will continue to be my, Joshua Vissers’, newsletter and outlet. Much of the work I’m doing here I hope to transfer to that nonprofit once it is formed, but I don’t intend for it to be named ‘Late Edition’, or share anything else with this newsletter.
These are articles (and a couple podcasts) I read that I thought should be shared. None of the work is my own, but it comes from colleagues and organizations that I find trustworthy, or am personally a member of. These are not sponsored, but they are endorsed.
A 40-minute podcast that lays out what happened on January 6. Includes some potentially disturbing audio from the event, probably not for young ears.
Certain state leaders have decided the best way to help the economy is by slowing down vaccine funding
This story is from Michigan Advance, a Lansing-based nonprofit news source. The reporter and I shared several classes at Grand Valley State University. She’s great.
The International Journalists Network recommends these things when covering anti-democratic extremism
Reading like this helped inform my decision to resign from the Gazette.
Bridge Magazine is another nonprofit news source I read.
Officials across the nation are bracing for potentially violent protests this week after a warning from the FBI
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey publicly said the warning was unnecessary, but still went along with precautions recommended by law enforcement, including postponing legislative sessions scheduled to begin this week.
Not Michigan’s 1st Congressional District Representative Jack Bergman, though.
The IRS is warning of a new round of scams surrounding the economic stimulus payments to individuals
You can review all the scams the IRS is warning about here. They say to be particularly wary of ‘phishing’ emails and text messages pertaining to stimulus payments.
Mislabeled videos, misleading statements, and outright lies pervade social media. AP News tries to cut to the truth on a few of the most-shared lies every week.
The Michigan State Police State Emergency Operations Center announced in a press release.
Late Edition Reader Survey
Here’s the link to the survey. It’s only about five questions. Thanks in advance for your feedback.