Quicktip stories: Home-prices to cruise ship inspections

by January 29, 2014

Time flies on news-heavy weeks and the “ones that got away” pile of good stories to localize is growing at an annoying clip.  (Among the missed opportunities, to my chagrin, was this Ragan’s PR Daily piece on tacky MLK Day marketing if you want to add it to next year’s tickler file.)  So before the following are added to the heap, here’s a clutch of quick tips related to headlines in the news:

CDC database for Vessel Sanitation Program

The CDC Vessel Sanitation Program database includes when ships were inspected and how they scored.

The ocean blues.  With another jumbo cruise ship headed home early due to a norovirus outbreak among passengers — you might be preparing a consumer guide for weather-weary readers willing to brave gastrointestinal woes in exchange for 80-degree temps.  If so, be sure to check out the resources on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, under its Vessel Sanitation Program portal. (How’s that for a marketing pitch?) In addition to tips and advisories, the CDC publishes the results of on-board inspections to prospective sailors can actually search by name to see how the ship they’re considering stacks up.  The searchable inspection scores database also can be sorted by cruise line and by date.  Corrective action reports are available as PDFs and make interesting reading; a recent report on Disney ships, for example, dinged one vessel for dishwashing water that wasn’t hot enough, for live fruit flies spotted at a buffet and not enough chlorine at a water slide/pool facility, among other things.

Bad-weather day care. As if below-zero temps don’t make life rough enough, imagine being a parent who needs to get to work despite school closings.  Reports from the depth of the deep freeze indicate that child care is posing a problem in inclement weather; here’s one report from WSAZ in Charleston, West Va. and another from  the Rockford Register-Star about parents forced to miss work — in some cases, unpaid — to take care of kids.  You might check with major employers in your area — what provisions are they making (telecommuting? lenient time-off policies) for workers caught in a bind?  And are any child care businesses or non-profits stepping up to offer stop-gap help?  How are casual baby sitters making out — any unexpected business bounty for them?

Farm Bill fallout.  Now that a bipartisan farm bill has been agreed upon, with the controversial food-stamp cuts still included, you might want to take another run at determining how retailers benefit from the SNAP program, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  As I’ve mentioned before, the data about where food stamps are redeemed is obscured by the USDA, but there is new hope that may be changing. Politico reports that a suit by South Dakota’s Argus Leader — which was denied information about retail-level food stamp redemption despite a Freedom of Information Act request — has prompted an appeals court decision that rejects the USDA’s reasoning for hiding retailer data.  It’s not a shoo-in that journalists now will have unfettered access and be able to, for example, chart which stores in a given reason reap the most from food stamp redemption, but it’s a start.  Here’s the Argus Leader’s own story on the matter.

Home price history.  In previous blog posts I’ve often suggested a longitudinal approach to housing stories — charting the ebb and flow of sales and prices in a given neighborhood, for example, or following a buyer or seller throughout the process.  So I was thrilled on Sunday to see the New York Times piece “The tale of a house, and an entire market,” which traced the history of a single house in each of several markets nationwide to illustrate the ups and downs of the housing market, and some of the homeowner stories (and foibles) that account for home price gyrations in recent years.  It’s a story you can localize using property records and would make for a riveting read, particularly following the just-out new data that shows home prices in some regions rising at a pre-crash pace.