Tag Archives: news

MeanStreets Omaha

September 13, 2017 by
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

“Forecast: random mid-air explosions with a chance of the neighbors setting your house on fire.” This post from July 4 captures the sarcastic-but-informative tone of MeanStreets Omaha, “a group of passionate volunteers live-tweeting the Omaha Police and Fire scanner” since May 2013. The clandestine MeanStreets Omaha organization consists of a small number of anonymous individuals who translate police and fire scanners into tweets, covering issues ranging from weather, to traffic, to crime, to “free” couches left on the side of the interstate.

The handle @MeanStreetsOMA boasts more than 118,000 followers on Twitter—between
@WOWT6News’ 104,000 and @KETV’s 130,000—effectively making it a leading social media news source in Omaha. A similar account in a much larger Midwestern city, @Chicago_Scanner, has roughly 40,000 Twitter followers.

MeanStreets Omaha’s digital presence also consists of meanstreetsoma.com (an aggregate site with answers to frequently asked questions, an online store, and links to a plethora of resources), a GoFundMe page (which shows they’ve nearly reached their goal of $5,500), Instagram and YouTube accounts, and a Facebook profile with 67,000 followers.

So, what makes MeanStreets Omaha so popular?

“It’s amazing all the ‘little things’ that go on every single day in our community that nobody ever hears about from the big guys,” wrote Brad Williams, posting on an eOmahaForums thread about Mean Streets in March. “I find all the real life every day [expletive] that OPD has to deal with interesting and
@MeanStreetsOMA is great at pointing that stuff out.”

Jeremy Harris Lipschultz, a professor with the University of Nebraska-Omaha Social Media Lab and author of the newly revised Social Media Communication: Concepts, Practices, Data, Law and Ethics, thinks the size of the Omaha community contributes to MeanStreets Omaha’s popularity. He also cites the organization’s “creative aspects of communication” (e.g., their callbacks, humor, memes, etc.), but it is their engagement with the community that really draws people to them. “They’re not afraid to engage with their audience,” explains Lipschultz. “So, when people tweet at them—it might be a retweet, or it might be a reply, or a like, or a comment—but people know they’re out there, and that’s a kind of social connection, this building of online community through their identity, and presence, and interaction with others.”

Twitter user Ryan Allen (@NexusNcontext), an avid @MeanStreetsOMA follower, agrees. He cites the “collaboration that seems to exist between followers, as well as people in the media, and those in police departments” as one of the reasons he checks @MeanStreetsOMA multiple times a day. “An event will happen, people in the area will tweet pictures, local media accounts will request permission to use those pictures on the news, and police officers will chime in, too.” Allen relates an anecdote where he overheard a police helicopter in his neighborhood, tweeted an inquiry at @MeanStreetsOMA, and received an explanation within minutes.

In addition to the community and media, MeanStreets Omaha also collaborates closely with Omaha police officers and departments. “[Police departments] have become aware that social media are a tool for gathering information about potential criminal activity,” explains Lipschultz, “and also for exercising community policing.”

Given the number of @MeanStreetsOMA followers, it makes sense for the Omaha Police Department to get involved; however, representatives of the Omaha Police Department declined to comment for this article.

The kind of grassroots, crowd-sourced news that MeanStreets Omaha provides appeals to those distrustful of the mainstream media and those looking for news with a more local and personal focus. Another commenter (using the name “jag42”) captured the sentiment with the following addition to the eOmahaForums thread: “I consider MeanStreets Omaha to be Omaha’s leading news source.”

Their popularity is undeniable, but what motivates MeanStreets Omaha?

“I think it serves as a curator for raw, unconfirmed information that’s swirling around on the internet,” Lipschultz explains. Acknowledging that they aren’t monetizing their efforts beyond what’s required to maintain them, Allen argues that MeanStreets Omaha is about accountability and transparency. “They provide you with the ability to put things into context and to take information that is raw, fluid, and truthful,” he explains. “There’s no hiding the scanner.”

In contrast to their crowd-sourced, grassroots approach to news, the volunteers of MeanStreets Omaha go to great lengths to maintain their anonymity. In February 2016, when asked why they choose to be anonymous on a Reddit AMA (which stands for “Ask Me Anything”), the organization explained that “It is more fun that way!” Lipschultz believes that their anonymity is something they feel is necessary for the way they function, while Allen thinks it protects them from corruption and lobbyists. In response to an e-mail query, MeanStreets Omaha declined to comment for this article.

So, what’s in the future for MeanStreets Omaha? “We have a LLC created now and a business plan,” they explained in their Reddit AMA. Lipschultz suspects the organization may have a long-term plan to evolve into a local news site. This hypothesis is supported by a comment by MeanStreets Omaha on their AMA: “There may be a time in the future where we are a ‘legitimate’ media entity where all will be revealed.”

Find MeanStreets Omaha on Twitter and Facebook at @MeanStreetsOMA. Visit meanstreetsoma.com for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Preserving News History with Razor Blades and Computers

August 23, 2017 by
Photography by Scott Drickey

Free beer Friday. Employees at Universal Information Services can indulge in a cold brew at the stroke of 4 p.m. at the office (although some have acknowledged to sipping on suds a half hour earlier).

“Cookies in the break room,” one employee whispers as she slips past with her treat.

Vice president Todd Murphy believes beer and food are universally accepted. It’s one way Todd invests the time to get to know each employee. Just this week, someone was awarded the “9 a.m. employee of the hour.” His father, president Jim Murphy, took a photo with her in front of the flag. It seems like a small gesture, but Todd believes these are what make people work harder.

“We have bosses who care,” P.R. measurement director Austin Gaule says.

Whether it is helping someone after their mother dies, buying a favorite record, or ensuring good coffee is available, this personal touch is invaluable to the Murphys’ corporate plan.

“It’s the little simple things that add up over the course of 109 years,” Todd believes.

Leasha Benolken scans one of the newspapers received at Universal.

Todd’s father Jim, a former brigadier general in the National Guard, learned how to empower people to their highest degree while in the military.

“Not only did it help them improve, but it made me look good,” he jokes.

Yet, when all the work is set aside, one feeling resonates in this tight-knit office space—family.

It was an idea that started in 1908 when Katherine Allen created the company. With a slide of a razor blade, Allen would send state legislators clippings from newspaper articles about themselves or their competitors. Jim worked side by side with her for nearly a decade in a time when women were typically wives and mothers. Allen was a “progressive, smart individual,” but Jim took the company to innovative levels as the world changed.

Jim originally worked part-time in Washington, D.C., as a press aide, meeting such presidents as Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon. It did not appeal to him—he was not fond of the politicians, lobbyists, and traffic. He put his finger on middle America, and it landed on Omaha. He didn’t know a soul. He entered the National Guard and met “5,000 instant friends.” Jim purchased the Universal Press Clipping Bureau in 1959.

Jim took the motto of Winston Churchill to heart, “We must take change by the hand or, rest assuredly, change will take us by the throat.”

He developed construction reports for prospective clients. It is an ideal way for architects or engineers to learn about projects long before there is an official request from a proposal. And when Jim received a call from a senator’s office to cover television news channels, it was time to take technology to new heights.

“I like to be up for a challenge,” Jim says.

Vice president Todd Murphy uses both “reel” technology and modern technology in his business.

He called Todd, then 13 years old, and asked him what he should buy at Nebraska Furniture Mart. Jim bought VCRs and had Todd set them up in his own bedroom with cords running haphazardly through the house so they could index and record broadcasts.

The company name has since changed, along with technology, and it is a data information landmine. Todd, who once wanted to become a cinematographer in Hollywood, realized the need to hire knowledge workers who could absorb data.

The data collectors have consequently become a dominant part of the office space. A room full of black servers track information clients want into databases across 16 states, from Nebraska to Alaska. The company pings 165 radio stations across the United States and Canada. Televisions are tuned into the latest scandals. Monica Lewinsky used the company to discover what was printed about her after news broke of her relationship with then-President Bill Clinton. Dr. Phil uses the service differently, mainly wanting to know if his program has good service.

And yet, a nod to the nostalgic age of print still resonates. The “Reading Room” is filled with newspapers, many of which make their way to another room to be clipped and scanned by hand.

In the digital preservation room, the old VHS and media equipment offer a tribute to history. Whether it is footage of Casey the gorilla being flown into the Omaha Zoo or huge bindings of newspapers, Jim hopes to clean, restore, and digitize the moments by using some of the aging monitors and sound systems.

Dr. Lee Simmons, chairman of the Omaha Zoo Foundation, echoes this on Universal’s website.

“Unless our history is preserved, we may find ourselves victims to the coming digital dark age,” he says. “We must be able to access our past so we can continue to improve the future.”

Visit universal-info.com for more information.

This article published in the Fall 2017 edition of B2B.

Chuck Roberts

October 1, 2015 by

Chuck Roberts blew into Omaha the same day as the May 6, 1975, tornado that spread death and destruction. Covering the infamous storm was the newsman’s introduction to his new job as a KMTV reporter/anchor.

“We were wall to wall on that story for a couple of weeks working 12 hours a day,” he recalls.

Viewers may remember Roberts anchoring Today Show cut-ins and noon news. Later he was promoted to weeknight news co-anchoring with Jeff Jordan.

KMTV news director Mark Gautier, who hired him, had a good eye for talent.  Gautier also hired Tom Brokaw, who went on to a national stage with NBC News.  Roberts also ended up with a much wider audience after seven years in Omaha.

It started when Ted Turner took a liking to Roberts. The media mogul was launching the country’s first 24-hour cable news station, CNN2, which was renamed CNN Headline News one year later.

Turner sent scouts across the country to find talent to anchor his news. They found Roberts in Omaha. “They told me ‘Ted fancies you,’” Roberts explains, “and that I was a finalist. They said: ‘Can’t offer you a contract. Can’t pay what you’re making now,’” says Roberts of his soon-to-be pay cut.

He packed up a U-Haul and drove 1,000 miles to Atlanta and a new life.

Roberts became the first anchor on the first 24-hour national news network and his was the first face seen on camera when the station went live. The paint was still wet on the CNN set when the cameras rolled.

“We were told our job was threefold: look plausible, stay sober, and read the lines you’re given. Those were our marching orders.”

Roberts anchored four-hour weekday newscasts on CNN Headline News. He also was CNN’s election anchor. “I would drive to the Birmingham (Alabama) library and isolate myself and prep for election night. Election night 2000 was the most memorable. Went on the air at 6 p.m. and off air at 7 a.m.” the following morning.

In 2010, Roberts left CNN and an international television audience of 160 million viewers. After 28 years, he was the longest-serving anchor among all the CNN networks. He then spent three years carrying out media training sessions in eight provinces in China for his alma mater, the Missouri School of Journalism.

“We so-called experts were sent to teach media training to start up provincial-level news operations,” says Roberts. “It was a slow process. Everything had to be translated.”

The newsman’s enthusiasm for a broadcast career began near a Nebraska farm his family owned. “There was a radio station in the basement of a hotel in Falls City. I was fascinated by that as a 9-year-old.”

Roberts has high praise for the quality of broadcast news in this city. “Omaha is so much better than its market size and a great place to start a career. I learned my craft in Omaha.”

Because of his many acheivements, Roberts was inducted into the Omaha Press Club Journalists of Excellence Hall of Fame in June.

Chuck-Roberts

Soy? No Whey!

January 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Protein shakes are popular these days with many people. Shannon Muhs, Registered Dietitian & Wellness Coach at the Shadow Lake Hy-Vee says, “People that I notice purchasing protein powder are adults having a protein-filled shake pre- or post-workout. Adults wanting to lose weight may use a protein shake for a meal replacement or snack—also, bariatric surgery candidates.”

So, as for protein, which “whey” do you go: soy or whey? There is no blanket answer. Both have their advantages. Says Muhs, “Soy protein comes from soybeans, has all nine essential amino acids, which makes it a complete protein. According to food scientists, soy takes longer to digest, and it is harder to digest than whey protein. On the other hand, soy can be a nice alternative for someone that cannot have milk products due to an allergy.”

Muhs adds, “Whey protein is a derivative of milk. Whey also contains all essential amino acids and is a complete protein. Whey has been considered superior to soy protein in aiding with muscle gains after a workout because of how easily it is digested and utilized in the body.

“There is still a lot of controversial information out there about soy protein related to its digestibility and chemical reaction it may lead to in the body,” says Muhs.

“The estrogenic activity from the soy isoflavones involves a whole cascade of events involving all of the reproductive hormones. The implications of these effects on hormones are yet to be determined…This is where dangerous deductions and premature conclusions can turn into controversial messages such as, ‘Soy may cause cancer.’”

It is certainly not a cut-and-dried issue. Muhs adds, “There are many studies that have found soy protein to help decrease the risk for many cancers and decrease tumor growth. There are some studies that have found a negative effect on consuming soy protein with high soy isoflavone content; specifically, negative [for] women with estrogen positive breast cancer. It’s not that the
soy is directly causing cancer; it’s that it may be affecting the environment in which the cancer may potentially grow.”

Lastly, Muhs says, “We simply don’t know enough to make a conclusion, but why not be safe and avoid soy if you’ve got a history or family history of breast cancer?”

Brandi Petersen

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Growing up in Papillion, Brandi Petersen didn’t dream of becoming a television news anchor; she was interested in theatre and speech, and entered college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln intending to study drama. But she quickly realized that a future in musical theatre was “not meant to be.” A class on the history of broadcasting inspired her passion for broadcast journalism, and after she switched majors, Petersen sought an internship at KETV in 2001 simply because her family had always watched that station’s newscasts.

“Our joke is that I kind of hung around long enough until I got a job; I just wouldn’t leave,” she says. “I had three internships and got very lucky that they took a chance on an intern…and it worked out very well for me.”

Petersen became a full-fledged reporter in 2003 and an anchor three years later. She says she has found many role models and even friends at KETV through the years, from the reporters who let her tag along on assignment during her earliest days as an intern to her current colleagues on both sides of the camera.

“People ask if we really get along that well,” Petersen says. “We’re very much like a family, and that sounds so cheesy, but all of our reporters and anchors and team members, we really bond very, very well.”

“We live here with you; we’re your neighbors. And we’re kind of the microphone for what you want to say.”

Her career highlights include interviewing President Obama (“It was really an experience having security sweep through twice and snipers on the roof of the building behind us,” she recalls) and Warren Buffett, and she was on-air during notable events such as the 2007 Westroads shooting and the 2008 tornado at Little Sioux Scout Ranch in western Iowa. Petersen says she credits not only experience, but also her high school drama training with helping her maintain composure on camera, and although she spends most of her time behind the news desk, she still enjoys reporting from the field.

“The great thing about this job is that you get to see and interview so many people,” she says. “Reporting is our first love. We’re storytellers.”

Petersen says she’s become accustomed to being recognized wherever she goes—“Are you the news girl?” is a common greeting often followed by, “You’re a lot taller than I thought you’d be!”—but she says people are nearly invariably nice to her when they meet her in public, and she strives to be polite and friendly in return.

“As an on-air journalist, you do need to remember that you’re in the public eye,” she says. “I don’t want to let people down.”

Petersen, whose son Easton was born in 2011, says the unusual work schedule associated with live evening broadcasts has meshed nicely with motherhood, especially since her husband, Brian Paul, a high school coach, works traditional hours. Easton smiles and claps when he sees her on TV, she reports, but adds with a laugh, “He does the same thing for Bill Randby and Jeremy Maskel.”

Petersen has watched broadcast journalism evolve to be more immediate and interactive with coverage available around the clock and through multiple means. But she says one thing hasn’t changed: she still loves her job.

“It’s great to work in the market where I grew up,” she says. “I think we’ve really built a reputation with our station…that we’re good, kind people. I hope that people pick up on that. We live here with you; we’re your neighbors. And we’re kind of the microphone for what you want to say.”