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As Papers Shrink, Online Sites Are Community Watchdogs

Over the last two years, some of this city’s darkest secrets have been dragged into the light — city officials with conflicts of interest and hidden pay raises, affordable housing that was not affordable, misleading crime statistics.

Investigations ensued. The chiefs of two redevelopment agencies were forced out. One of them faces criminal charges. Yet the main revelations came not from any of San Diego’s television and radio stations or its dominant newspaper, The Union-Tribune, but from a handful of young journalists at a nonprofit Web site run out of a converted military base far from downtown’s glass towers — a site that did not exist four years ago.

As America’s newspapers shrink and shed staff members, and broadcast news outlets sink in the ratings, a new kind of Web-based news operation has arisen in several cities, taking up some of the slack and forcing the mainstream media to follow the stories they uncover.

Here, it is VoiceofSanDiego.org, offering a brand of serious, original reporting by professional journalists — the province of the mainstream media, but without the expensive paper and ink. Since it began in 2005, similar operations have cropped up in New Haven, Conn.; the Twin Cities in Minnesota; Seattle; St. Louis; and Chicago. More are on the way.

Pirates Capture Supertanker With $100 Million Cargo

Pirates captured a Saudi-owned supertanker loaded with more than $100 million worth of crude oil off the coast of Kenya, seizing the largest ship ever hijacked, U.S. Navy officials said Monday.

The hijacking follows a string of increasingly brazen attacks by Somali pirates in recent months, but this appears to be the first time pirates have seized a full oil tanker.

“This is unprecedented,” Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the 5th Fleet, told Reuters. “It’s the largest ship that we’ve seen pirated. It’s three times the size of an aircraft carrier.”

The attack came despite an increased naval presence off the Somali coast, where most of the recent hijackings have taken place. The pirates are generally heavily armed, and travel in speedboats equipped with satellite phones and GPS equipment.

Piracy has increased sharply this year, with more than 80 ships attacked so far off the Somali coast, 36 of them successfully hijacked, according to the International Maritime Bureau, a piracy watchdog agency based in Kuala Lumpur. Among those hijacked, 14 ships with over 200 crew members are still being held.

Study Links Fertility Procedures With Risk of Birth Defects

Infants conceived with techniques commonly used in fertility clinics are two to four times more likely to have certain birth defects than are infants conceived naturally, a new study has found.

The findings applied to single births only, not to twins or other multiples. The defects included heart problems, cleft lip, cleft palate and abnormalities in the esophagus or rectum. But those conditions are rare to begin with, generally occurring no more than once in 700 births, so the overall risk was still low, even after the fertility treatments. Cleft lip, for instance, typically occurs in one in 950 births in the United States, and the study found that the risk about doubled, to approximately one in 425, among infants conceived with the fertility treatments.