I mapped Minnesota UFO sightings — ask me why!

I mapped Minnesota UFO sightings, ask me why!
MinnPost photo illustration by Corey Anderson

The Intelligencer is six months old this week. To celebrate, I’ve created a map of every Minnesota UFO sighting on record at the National UFO Reporting Center. There are close to 800 entries and the sightings cover all corners of the state, stretching back to 1947.

Why are you looking at me like that?

OK, you have no use for this map. I understand, neither do I. So why post it? What’s the threshold for posting data at a news blog like this one? It’s a question many people asked when I mapped vacant and condemned properties in Minneapolis. Security-minded readers wondered if such a tool might only serve as a roadmap for copper thieves or a warning sign for potential buyers in any given neighborhood. Never mind that I was merely mapping data provided online by the city (in a handy, printable list no less).

The criteria for posting data to The Intelligencer — in whatever form — are pretty base: Is the source of the data clear and is that source trusted? Is the method of data collection clear? Is it interesting? And then the big one: Are there people out there who are passionate about whatever issues intersect with the data?

That last one is critical. I’m trying to start a conversation in this space. When I wrote about an advocacy organization’s study of domestic violence cases in suburban Hennepin County, I dispensed with the quick-hit newspaper model for such stories. You know the one: a couple of paragraphs setting it up; bullet points; then the talking head parade: somebody who supports the findings, somebody who insists “the picture is more complex” and then the dispassionate observer.

Instead I spent a great deal of energy trying to understand just what the advocacy organization was trying to communicate — and that was the focus of my post. I ended with this: “Are you a judge, attorney, or are you in law enforcement? I want to hear from you on these issues.” A few people took me up on this; some in the comments section, some using a form I created to allow off-the-record comment, and some via email.

Mostly what I heard was frustration that I had excluded the perspectives of judges, attorneys and people in law enforcement — the very people I had appealed to.

My invitation was sincere, but the people I wanted to reach weren’t buying it.

I get it. No matter how much I may value what happens in the comments after I publish a post, we’re trained to believe that the voices that matter are up top.

I’m designing a new approach and I want your help. If you care even a little bit about constructive discourse online please join this conversation.

Here’s an idea to get us started: I could select the best comments — those that further whatever conversation I’m trying to start with a given post — and move them above the Great Wall that divides reporter from commenter under the heading: “The rest of the story: Continuing the conversation.” I could include pieces of comments, tweets, correspondence, phone calls, whatever. I could even include further reporting (unless I were to opt instead for a separate post). I could also include a form for submitting your email address. Whenever the post is updated, I would send you a note.

I’m serious about starting conversations — and about seeing them through to some sort of constructive end. What other changes should I consider? Let’s talk.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 04/26/2011 - 10:51 am.

    I admit I’m not the least bit interested in UFO sightings, but one of the appeals of MinnPost has been the occasional back-and-forth between/among commenters and writers of the story. I’ve been in touch with several on the MinnPost staff via email as well as comments, and have found them responsive, so I lean toward approval of a “new model” that at least attempts to get at “the rest of the story.” A big part of my reason for that approval is my general dislike for the bland and uninformative format increasingly adopted by mainstream media outlets. A paragraph (or 20 seconds) on one viewpoint, a second paragraph (or another 20 seconds) on the opposing viewpoint, a dispassionate comment, purposely made as neutral as possible – basically a lot of striving for an “objectivity” that is more theoretical construct than useful reality. Giving equal weight to both sides, when one side’s arguments are based on facts and/or reason and the other side’s arguments are based on ideology and/or the irrational, does a disservice to whoever it is that’s reading or seeing the story

    On a small scale, “growing” the story might really be worthwhile, but if it’s successful, I can see how email, or responding to comments from numerous readers, could easily end up eating up every minute of your time, to the detriment of reporting and genuine information-gathering. And that works for the commenters, too. I have other things to do during the day and evening, and won’t typically want to spend hour after hour on the MinnPost site, perusing comments. Still, as you suggested, when it’s an issue about which I have strong feelings, I don’t mind coming back to MinnPost a couple times during the day to see how the “conversation” is going.

  2. Submitted by Rachel Anderson on 04/26/2011 - 11:00 am.

    Jeff, I love having this info and I love the way you write! Fun, fun.

  3. Submitted by Bryan Dohla on 04/26/2011 - 11:08 am.

    Ray is correct with this statement:

    “Giving equal weight to both sides, when one side’s arguments are based on facts and/or reason and the other side’s arguments are based on ideology and/or the irrational, does a disservice to whoever it is that’s reading or seeing the story”

    It’s time credible media outlets just say when someone is wrong. Death Panels? Not exactly. Obama has a balanced budget? Sure, with tons of imaginery accounting gimmicks. Whatever happened to the media debunking irresponsible statements made by politicians or pundits? Today, the media acts as a platform for irresponsible politicians to run their mouth without any facts or critical thinking to get in their way.

    Any interaction that journalists can have with the commentators on their website would be a good thing. Sometimes, we are all prone to hang around “like-minded” individuals so often that we become ignorant, naive, and partisan.

  4. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 04/26/2011 - 11:17 am.

    I find this fascinating as well as the format. I am a skeptic about a lot of things, and this is one of them. Still one of the people I most respected in this world had a fervid belief in UFOs etc., and wrote about them to some extent. Also, one night years ago, in rural Wisconsin where we were staying at a farmhouse I saw a large green lighted “thing” (part of it) at an angle across the road. Then it disappeared. My husband went out the next morning but found no evidence. I still have no idea what (if anything) it was. No, I hadn’t been drinking.

  5. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 04/26/2011 - 02:35 pm.

    Living near MSP airport I have seen hundreds of extremely realistic “UFO” that turn out to be airplanes when they come close. My all time favorite was in the 1970’s when I was walking across the Washington Av bridge top deck. It was a hot summer night with a lot of fog over the river.

    It was a perfect “flying saucer” coming from the south. Everyone on the bridge stopped to watch. When it passed over there was shiny metal with a big black “N” and what sounded like a gas turbine being shut down.

    The “N” was the giveaway but it took me a while to develop an explanation of why it looked so much like a “flying saucer. We were starting to get jumbo jets like the 747 where the size skews distance and speed perceptions. The 747’s had far quieter “fanjet” engines. Heat and saturation humidity muffled sound and distorted running lights. The airplane probably was circling around to use the longest runway and was descending so not much engine throttle.

    The point is that airplane can look a lot like UFO’s.

  6. Submitted by Lance Groth on 04/26/2011 - 03:48 pm.

    While it is true that airplanes can sometimes, to casual observation, appear to be something unknown, those are the types of sightings that are easy to explain and dismiss.

    However, if one takes the time to look into the vast amount of data that has been compiled, there are many cases that defy conventional explanation. Accounts by professional pilots, military officers and astronauts, for example, often coupled with radar returns and physical effects on planes, ground vehicles and ground installations, are not so easy to dismiss. Interceptor jets do not generally chase commercial aircraft or weather balloons, yet they have been observed to chase UFOs, and in some cases, the pilots themselves have testified regarding failed interception attempts.

    An excellent book detailing the need for objective investigation of UFOs, defined in the literal sense as “Unidentified Flying Objects” (not “alien spacecraft”, since this has not been determined) is Leslie Kean’s 2010 book: “UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record”

    I must also observe that, once one has seen an object that defies conventional explanation, idle speculation about lights in the sky, misidentified aircraft, weather balloons or Venus on the horizon no longer hold much interest as explanations. Disclosure: I have seen such an object, and one of the red dots on Mr. Guntzel’s map represents my sighting in Pipestone, in 1975. I think the description I filed makes it clear that it was a 3 dimensional object that maneuvered through the air, and was under intelligent control (it appeared to react to my presence), but was not anything conventional – particularly for 1975.

  7. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 04/27/2011 - 04:59 am.

    In case anyone wondered the big black N I referred to was the code letter for Northwest Airlines. Back then 85% of MSP traffic was from NWA.

    I tend to make a casual observation of realistic looking “UFO’s” near MSP. The assumption is that they are all aircraft but the eyes can really play tricks.

  8. Submitted by David Peterson on 04/27/2011 - 04:14 pm.

    Congratulations! I would say if this mapping data will continue, it would be worth investing some time in some real mapping packages as opposed to Google maps. A bunch of points on a map can only reveal so much. Heat maps and other interesting visualizes can be much more telling for certain data sets. If nothing else, invest some time in exploring the other visualizations Google offers.

  9. Submitted by Joe Anderson on 05/26/2011 - 11:36 am.

    Thank you for your maps. I was looking for maps to figure acreage on my farm in northern Minnesota, when I came across your site. With your maps I’m able to get down to 100 feet, which I can’t on google maps (Only 200 feet)and the Farm Service Agency (Only 500 feet).

    You must be using alien technology. 😀

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