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Analysis: Computer-Assisted Reporting

A story published in March from Fort Wayne, Ind., The Journal Gazette used computer assisted reporting to uncover a story about violations of the EPA's Clean Air Act across the state of Indiana.

The reporters used the EPA's searchable database in order to find that nearly two-thirds of Indiana companies with permits to create air pollutants had violated the act. The violations, after three years have still been left unresolved.

Analysis: Multimedia

The two organizations that provide the best multimedia news experience are The New York Times and MPRNewsQ.

Headlining articles are often published with accompanying photos, slideshows, or videos on the website. Each organization provides multiple blog opinions, giving readers many different points of view on key topics. Also, alongside of these two main modes of distribution, print and radio respectively, they offer iPhone applications that allow a reader to have access to even more information than the website all on their portable device.

All these amenities give a reader a broader view of the issue at hand. They also allow a reader to become more loyal, as if their news is branded into the best organization that provides the most.

And true to each organization's form of high standards, the writing does not falter between the main mode of news distribution and the auxiliary multimedia. Captions to slideshows, transcripts from broadcast, and videos all retain a sense of objective and in-depth news coverage, but also give the reader a little something extra, like a more personal voice to the story or an engagement of more of the senses.

In my opinion, The New York Times and MPRNewsQ (and by association NPR in general) are the only news organizations that have achieved a serviceable and marketable business model to deliver the news.

*Note: I accidentally switched my analysis entries between the weeks of 2/22 and 3/1. The analysis entry on press releases was posted on 2/27 @ 8:05 p.m.

Analysis: Press Release to Reported News

There are many differences between the State of Minnesota's press release about Gov. Pawlenty's budget cuts and the story that was released in The Pioneer Press.

Most noticeably is the angle these two accounts take. In The Pioneer Press, the reporter focused on the cuts on social aid programs like welfare and Medicaid that will take benefits away from 40,000 residents. Conversely, the State's press release focused on how certain cuts and programs will create jobs statewide, which the Pioneer Press article doesn't pay much attention to.

The press release also reported its numbers more often in millions of dollars, as in will cut $X million from this and that program. The Pioneer Press, knowing that its readership for the most part cannot picture that much money, often reported its numbers in percentage or thousands of people that would be effected.

The voices are polar opposites, the State seems optimistic and proactive, whereas the Pioneer Press is very critical. The latter also looks outside of the scope of just balancing a budget, looking at consequences for all Minnesota residents and ends with a wish that the national health care debate will be fruitful.

Analysis: Structure by the AP

MPRNewsQ published this story from the Associated Press on Saturday about the Bear Center in Ely, Minn.

This article is more of a feature news story. The lead starts off with a seemingly inconsequential fact about website hits for the Bear Center in 2009 rather than the inverted pyramid style of breaking news.

As the story continues, we learn that just in the past month, the Bear Center's website has had over 3 million visitors due to worldwide interest in the live-feed video of a mother bear and her new cub during hibernation.

The article goes on to relate a narrative about the Bear Center programs, starting with their current successes as a classroom learning tool and trailing to their former vast unpopularity that has driven the nonprofit center into debt. Quotes from bear experts Lynne Rogers and Sue Mansfield pepper the article to give color and to explain their passion about black bears and the importance of studying these native creatures.

For the type of story that is being presented, the structure works well. The stage is set as the Bear Center experiences it's first taste of acclaim and success with their "Den Cam" of Lily the mother black bear. The reporter than draws our attention to the zoological benefits of the Bear Center's study with great quotes from researchers Lynne Rogers and Sue Mansfield, pointing out that the Den Cam has broken a lot of conventional wisdom about bear hibernation.

Readers then learn that the Bear Center is in financial trouble, and although the Center has received much support in light of the new cub birth, they are still far short of paying back the $700,000 mortgage.

The article ends on a lighter note, relating a possible partnership between the Bear Center and Cub Foods grocery stores to promote a "Name Lily's Cub" contest near the end of February.

The structure of this particular article covers many different angles and interests that makes a formerly unpopular topic rather intriguing. Also, by presenting a sort of cause-effect-cure structure in storytelling, the reporter subtly reminds audiences that they too can help the Bear Center.

Analysis: Attribution in The New York Times

Many sources are named in a Sunday New York Times article about Sri Lankan politics.

Writer Lydia Polgreen cites five different men from the Sri Lankan political scene. The article centers around the issue of the Tamil ethnic group based in the northerner penninsula of Jaffna in Sri Lanka. Polgreen's sources are mostly pro-Tamil independence, with two of them straddling the fence between independence and nationalism, and the incumbent Sri Lankan president who is very much a nationalist.

Her sources consist of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who claims responsibility for quelling the 26-year Tamil rebellion, Professor S. K. Sitrampalam, a historian who is also a senior member of one of the largest Tamil political parties, Douglas Devananda, a former Tiger who has become a powerful minister in Rajapaksa's government, S. Arihan, president of the student union at the University of Jaffna, and Ahilan Kadirgamar of the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum, an organization that is trying to reconcile the country's ethnic divides.

More often than not, Polgreen uses direct quotations rather than paraphrasing in her story. Most quotes are also grouped near the end of the article to show contrasting ideas. No institutions or records are directly quoted. Her style and use of attribution is effective in getting the point across.

Analysis: News Leads in "The Guardian"

The Guardian led with this story on Sunday:

"Tension between the US and Iran heightened dramatically today with the disclosure that Barack Obama is deploying a missile shield to protect American allies in the Gulf from attack by Tehran."

Many news elements are present in this lead, and at the same time, there are some unresolved questions.

Major questions like who, what, where and when are answered. The players are The US and her allies versus Iran. A missile shield shield is what has entered the conflict and the action is taking place in the Persian Gulf (though not explicitly named as such) today (Sunday).

The wording is overly general in this lead. A reader has to assume many things with this lead. Readers not familiar with geography, or a reader looking at this story later in the week, might have a different frame of reference than that which the writer uses.

Also, the word "disclosure" is too vague. The sentence is constructed to conveniently skirt around the fact that Barack Obama did not make a direct declaration of this missile shield. In fact, it isn't until the fifth paragraph that the writer of this article admits that this information comes from a leak by an unnamed senior administrator and that the announcement is not "formal."

This lead reflects timeliness, conflict, prominence (with Obama), and especially impact. But sensationalism seems to be the prevailing element.

Since The Guardian is a British news organization, it is possible that some of their customs in writing news are different than what we are learning in our American classroom. But this particular lead still leaves some things to be desired.

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