December 7, 2008

Suicide Watch Records and Computer Assisted Reporting

In “The Suicide Bed: A Cover-Up At Western State Mental Hospital� Chris Halsne of KIRO 7 Eyewitness News examined medical records to reveal a “series of embarrassing mistakes that led� to a mentally ill man’s death.

Halsne used video footage along with documentation to reveal the neglect which led to the suicide.

Halsne determined that safety checks, mandatory every fifteen minutes to those patients in solitary confinement and on suicide watch, were not filled out.

He also found out that the psychologist assigned to monitor his case, was on vacation.

An internal memo revealed that the hospital recognized these short-comings, and indicated that they should first assign an available counselor, and second, bolt down the beds that were constructed to be immobile, but were never bolted down.

For computer assisted reporting, this reporter had to examine medical documentation and records of safety checks. He found that “An internal hospital monitoring sheet indicates nobody did that suicide check at 1:30 or 1 or 12:30 or noon."

He also examined the videotape of the floor that showed the staff sitting in the commons room.

“There are 12 employees in the day room just outside Gordon’s room 26. The tape shows several employees laughing and horsing around for nearly an hour while Gordon hanged in his room a few feet away,� the article reported.

November 16, 2008

Diversity Analysis

The use of the term “The Dirty 30� indicates a predisposition toward detainees as dirty and dangerous in Guantanamo Bay, as described by the and the New York Times.

It denigrates the detainees and presumes guilt.

Granted, in the news organizations defense, it was a term adopted by the U.S. government to describe 30 of the roughly 255 prisoners held at the detention center.

The reports are telling, however, indicating the conflict between the U.S. and the prisoners. “I admit to you it is my honor to be an enemy of the United States,� a detainee being held said, according to the New York Times.

The story employs multiple quotes from prisoners to depict the torture and coercion they experience in captivity.
The depictions are somewhat stereotypical of our image of “terrorists� hating the U.S. and the quotes only perpetuate this familiar hatred.

Regrettably, just about anyone detained without recourse would experience similar contempt for their captors. Because of this experience, their hatred is justified, and the stereotypes, though predictable, are understandable.

November 8, 2008

Numbers Analysis

The U.S. economic effects continue to offer opportunity to explore reporting with numbers. This week’s blog articles related to the 14-year high level of unemployment as covered by the New York Times and the L.A. Times incorporate numbers throughout their reporting. The L.A. Times article discussed how “employers slashed jobs from one end of the economy to the other in October, pushing the unemployment rate to 6.5%. That’s the highest level in more than 14 years, making a deep recession a virtual certainty.� The percentage may be perceived as minor, because there is no larger number to refer to for the percentage. However, the article then goes into detail about how many jobs that equates to, listing 240,000 jobs lost in October nationwide. The article also points to the underreported loss from September originally projected at 159,000 when it was actually closer to 284,000. The reporter goes on to explain that “the economy must normally create about 100,000 jobs a month to keep pace with population growth,� but so far “the economy has shrunk by nearly 1.2 million jobs� this year. The L.A. Times does a good job putting the big picture of the unemployment percentage into perspective through a well-constructed graph depicting the jobless rate from Jan. 94 to Oct. 08. The L.A. Times also defined the scope of “unemployment� by telling the reader that it doesn’t reflect people who are not actively looking for work, or people who have taken part time jobs in an effort to remain employed at a lesser level.
The New York Times listed the numbers of manufacturing, construction, retail and financial industry jobs lost while explaining that health care, mining and public schools were showing “modest growth� last month. The New York Times also indicated the short term severity of the situation, demonstrating that. The New York Times eased the figures associated with financial stories by simplifying the numbers a bit. When reporting on the 1.2 million jobs lost in 2008 to date, they wrote “more than half in the last three months alone,� rather than giving the exact figure which makes the story an easier read.
Both newspapers referred to the Labor Department as their source.

November 1, 2008

Obituary Analysis

The Associated Press coverage of Studs Terkel’s death follows the standard obituary guidelines discussed in class. The lead is classic, opening with his name, a brief synopsis of his achievements “the ageless master of listening and speaking, a broadcaster, activist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author…,� and when, “Friday.� It also closes the lead paragraph with the standard statement “He was 96.�

The Washington Post’s coverage of Terkel’s death is similarly formatted in the lead paragraph. “Studs Terkel, the preeminent oral historian of the 20th-century America who described the major events of his time through the experiences and observations of the ordinary men and women who lived them, died Friday at his home in Chicago after a fall. He was 96.�

In both instances the lead used a standard approach, however, the Post's coverage does allude to a cause of death, referencing “after a fall,� in its lead. The AP story did not include a cause of death.

The AP story used the family and many of Terkel’s writings as source information within the story. The Washington Post story refers on his own recordings for quotes and his best-selling books to offer insight into his life.

The straight obituary lead works in both instances, because it identifies immediately what contributions Terkel made in his life and how people would remember him.

While the obituaries detail the scope of his life’s work, it is more personably told than a resume listing his accomplishments. For instance, the Washington Post remembers his statement “’who built the pyramids?’ he once asked in his inimitable sweet growl. It wasn’t the goddamn pharaohs who built the pyramids. It was the anonymous slaves.’� The quote supports the assertion that Terkel was interested in the common man.

When the Washington Post outlines his accomplishments, it does read a bit like a resume, because it is a simple listing of his work, but the works are embedded in more information about Terkel and his life in the AP article.

October 19, 2008

Advance Analysis

This story, written for the section of the Star Tribune, advances the reopening of Barbette, with a new exhibition. Teri Anvid is quoted as a source, and is the only one direct source. Anvid is the new curator of the art museum, and the story highlights the new curator’s vision, coupled with the opening of Eddie Hamilton’s “pastel figure paintings� and Scott Helmes “collaged figure paintings.� By discussing the once bare walls and the new vision for filling them, the writer, Jahna Peloquin, advances the progression of art from one curator to the next, and couples event information parenthetically at the close of the paragraph.

October 10, 2008

Press Release Analysis

Completion of the I-35W bridge announced Sept. 18 by Mn/DOT in its Sept. 15 press release conveyed pride and optimism regarding the completion of the bridge. The Star Tribune took the information from the press release and combined it with an anecdotal lead about one man’s second thoughts about getting up to cross the bridge at 5 a.m. which ran on Sept. 19. The coverage of the opening is much more animated and personable than the news release announcing the re-opening. The reporter who wrote the story disregarded the many quotes throughout the press release, made by Commissioner Tom Sorel and Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Instead, he wrote a personal account of one man’s experience waking early in the morning to cross the new bridge. The reporter then tied in other people who drove over the bridge that morning and briefly described the procession. The details of the procession drew information from the press release, such as the state troopers, emergency and Mn/DOT vehicles which led the traffic over the bridge. But, beyond these basic facts, the news coverage of the actual event diverged sharply from the press release issued by Mn/DOT.

October 5, 2008

Spot News and Follows

Spot news stories can begin with scant information. As in the local developments surrounding the FBI raid on a local business, Petters Group Worldwide, official statements were released but little was known about the reason behind the raid. Due to the deficit of information, the story was then filled out with information about Petters Group and its connections in the business community.

The story ran in both local papers, and as the story developed, the Pioneer Press supplemented its original story’s page with links to the new information regarding Petters’ resignation and warrant which alleged investor fraud.

The Star Tribune ran a follow story the day after the raid discussing the worksite’s “returning to normal.� They also approached the continuing investigation into Petters’ home. The Star Tribune also reused much of the information it had used the previous day, though not in strict adherence.

Further supplementing the information a few weeks later, the Star Tribune returned to the story of Petters by profiling in almost a feature like story the other millionaire under investigation in the same case. This follow story ran like a feature in some respects, breaking away from the FBI raid lead to a story about a man convicted and imprisoned being led to “turn his life over to God.�

No charges have been made about this second millionaire yet, but, the news is an interesting tie and an interesting follow to the Petters’ incident.

Unlike the follows that were discussed in class, this information was all expressed in fresh web pages with links from one story to the next, rather than integrating the information directly into the same page.

September 28, 2008

Structure Analysis

Structural differences can be seen when comparing this week’s stories regarding the marine who was awarded the Navy Cross rather than the Medal of Honor.

Two sources were consulted, one article written by the Christian Science Monitor and another article by the Marine Corps Times.

The Christian Science Monitor leads in with the description of heroism, and the family and friends’ surprise that Sgt. Rafael Peralta hasn’t been awarded the Medal of Honor. The format resembles the martini approach, with an inverted pyramid of relevant facts, followed by a series of fact blocks and ending with the kicker quote from a fellow marine saved by Sgt. Peralta's actions, “I have a second chance.�

The Marine Corps Times does not have a standard lead, but rather more of a straight explanation of what will occur. “Navy Secretary… will award the Navy Cross medal.� It then explains why in the nutgraph, and from there reads like the citation written for the award itself. That he was even considered for the Medal of Honor doesn’t get mentioned until several paragraphs into the reading.

However, like the Christian Science Monitor, it too ends with a kicker quotation regarding one veteran’s response to the downgraded award, “That just leaves a hollow pit in my stomach.�

September 20, 2008

Attribution Analysis

“He said, she said,� is the preferred form for properly attributing comments in news. Following this guideline can minimize editorializing in news stories. Through transparent references, the speaker is given full credit for their comments, and the reader is allowed to interpret the quotation based solely on the speaker’s comment, and not upon the writer’s interpretation. This also helps to preserve the writer’s credibility. Examples to avoid include the use of verbs such as “chortled� or “scoffed.�

The placement of the preferred term “said� is also important. By including it at the end of the sentence, the comment itself is given a more prominent placement, without being muddled by the attribution process.

Attribution examples from this week’s news stories are found in the stories run by the Christian Science Monitor and the Washington Post about North Korea’s nuclear reactor.

The Christian Science Monitor
clearly outlines its sources by prefixing the quotations with simple attribution such as “The BBC reports� or “CNN writes.� Attribution is clearly defined by this approach. However, this method does diverge from the classic convention which prefers placement at the end of the quotation.

However, the Washington Post story adheres to the use of said to close the phrase, or to break up a longer reference into a more manageable read.

September 13, 2008

Lead Analysis

The Associated Press covered Hurricane Ike with the following lead. �Howling ashore with 110 mph winds, Hurricane Ike ravaged the Texas coast Saturday, flooding thousands of homes and businesses, shattering windows in Houston's skyscrapers and knocking out power to millions of people.� This lead successfully details who, what, when, where, why and even delves into the how by providing greater imagery through strong verbs.

Succinct phrases address “who, what, when, where and why.� Who� refers only to “millions of people.� “What� addresses the extensive damage. “When� simply states “Saturday.� “Where� refers to the “Texas coast� not specifying directly where within Texas. " Why" explains that Hurrican Ike made landfall. This information expresses only general facts regarding the event.

Interest is peaked by words like “howling,� “ravaged� and “shattering� which vividly demonstrate the “how� of the story by detailing the extent of damage in the reader’s mind. This vivid imagery brings the hard news to life. Capturing the reader’s imagination through strong verb use, the writer presents hard news in an interesting and engaging manner.