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Analysis: Computer-assisted reporting

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The story "Towing jumps as plowing records fall" in the Minnesota Daily used computer-assisted reporting to analyze the number of cars towed in the Twin Cities last winter.

According to the article, last winter set the record for the largest number of snow emergencies called in the Twin Cities. The author tracked the number of cars towed and where they were towed from and compared these numbers to previous years.

To write this story, the reporter needed to locate records of the number of cars towed for at least the past two winters for the Twin Cities. He then had to analyze where they were located and how these numbers stacked up to past years.

In addition to the number of cars towed, the author also had to locate records showing how many snow emergencies have been called in past years and what the record amounts of snow are.

These records were located online, so the reporter needed to use the computer to access them. Then he needed to analyze the data to see how how the number of cars towed increased in different areas of the cities. The number increased in each section, but not proportionally--the number of cars towed around the university only increased slightly, where other areas increased much more drastically. Analyzing the data helped him develop and angle for the story and know what questions to ask to figure out why this might be.

The use of computer-assisted reporting helped the author to identify changes in the data showing the number of cars towed, and further analysis of this data revealed a trend: the record number of snow emergencies tied with the increase in cars towed and the large amount of snow last winter.

Analysis: Death of rape victim in Morocco

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The article "Death of Rape Victim in Morocco Sparks Calls for Legal Reform" in the New York Times described a tragic story of a young girl in Morocco who committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist.

According to the article, Moroccan law protects a rapist from prosecution if he agrees to marry his victim. The law is designed to restore the lost honor of the victim and her family, but some say it effectively legitimizes the crime, and the victim has no say in the decision.

The death of the Moroccan rape victim sparked public outcry for reform, the New York Times reported, citing various public officials and activists. The article did not specify if these activists are currently living in Morocco, or if they are in the United States. This left me wondering where specifically the outcry was coming from, and why there were no comments in the story from everyday people in Morocco if the event caused such an outcry.

Because I am not familiar with Moroccan culture, I spoke with Amina, a University of Minnesota student whose father is from Morocco. Amina happens to share the same first name with the victim in this news story. For privacy reasons, she requested to be identified by her first name only. I asked Amina why only activists for women's rights seemed to be quoted with opinions on the law and the suicide, and not other citizens.

"They maybe wouldn't talk about it," Amina said. "That's a part of Moroccan culture. You don't talk about things like that."

The story of the rape victim was heartbreaking, but the article credited the young girl's story with starting a movement for women's rights in Morocco. The lack of coverage of the opposition to this movement, whether to avoid stereotypes or because of the cultural norms Amina described, made me feel as though I was missing a part of the story. Although I feel the reporter tried to branch beyond stereotypes, I was left wondering whether the women's movement is as large as the article implies, or if it is taking place outside of Morocco.

Analysis: Minnesota's million-dollar inmates

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The story "Minnesota's million-dollar inmates" in the Star Tribune used numbers in multiple ways to portray a growing issue in Minnesota prisons: aging inmates are costing taxpayers a lot of money in healthcare.

The reporter used numbers to demonstrate the amount of money spent on inmates, what it is being spent on, the demographics of inmates, and the current health of inmates. To do this, the story included dollar amounts, percents, percent increases, and recent statistics. For instance, the story said that the Corrections Department's medical budget has tripled in the past decade, and was $68 million last year. If the reporter had listed the dollar amount alone, the reader would see that it is a large number but wouldn't have much to compare it to. By saying that this budget has tripled in a relatively short time period, we can see that this problem is growing fast.

There are a lot of numbers in this story, and the large of amount of them can make it slightly overwhelming in some places, but including them in the story helped to break down how much is being spent on what kind of medical treatment. In many places, the author made these numbers easier to graph by explaining the relations of numbers in words, such as saying the budget tripled rather than listing the different budget amounts. The author probably had to crunch some numbers to come up with these relationships, but it made the story easier for the reader to grasp.

The author did not list the sources of these numbers. Because the prison is a public institution, its expenses are public record. One can assume the author found these numbers from public records, but the author didn't list the source. There are some statistics in the story that weren't obvious where the author got them from, however, such as this section:
"More than one in 10 Minnesota inmates is now over age 50 -- a share that has doubled in the past decade -- and increasingly many of them need specialized treatment for costly illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. More than 550 offenders are serving life sentences; at an average age of 40, most face at least 30 more years in prison before they have any chance of parole."
These were all useful statistics, but I was left wondering where the author found them.

Analysis: Lincoln Hall Obituary

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By Alysha Bohanon

The obituary for Lincoln Hall in the New York Times used a number of sources. The first was the Australian Himalayan Foundation, which Hall had helped found. The Times attributed Hall's death announcement to this foundation's web site. Another source was the leader of the climbing group Hall participated in when he was left for dead on Mount Everest, Daniel Mazur, who had been quoted in the Associated Press. Finally, the Sydney Morning Herald was attributed to information about Hall's early life.

The story followed a standard obituary lead, giving the deceased's name, claim to fame, date location of death, and age. This was an effective lead, because Hall has an interesting claim to fame but the typical reader would not recognize him by his name alone. Later paragraphs give additional details about his death, but his cause of death is not addressed in the lead.

This obituary differs from a resume because it doesn't extensively discuss his employment or educational history. Instead, it focuses on his main accomplishments, in this case the Mount Everest climb he survived even after being left for dead, and only briefly touches on his chronological history and employment.

Analysis: Kaler's State of the U address

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By Alysha Bohanon

In the Star Tribune's article, "State of the U: Kaler suggests a year-round academic calendar," the author makes deliberate choices to highlight the main points of the University of Minnesota president's State of the University address.

A transcript of President Kaler's speech is available here.

The author organized this story in a way that would accentuate President Eric Kaler's largest (and most notable) suggestions rather than repeating everything he said. She first outlined his general points in a brief introduction. Then, under separate headers, she went into greater detail explaining his main two points: his plans to switch the university to a three-semester schedule and the 2013 budget.

Separating the topics with headers in this way helped the reader understand that these were Kaler's main points, and also gave the author a place to expand on these points with background information to help the reader understand the importance of what Kaler was proposing. In the academic calendar section, the author included excerpts from the 2011 report from the committee who studied the option and quotes from a skeptic assistant professor. This helped readers to see different points of view on the topic, as well as potential challenges it could bring.

Analysis: News organizations' use of multimedia

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Many news organizations are attempting to emphasize multimedia options for their stories. One interesting example of this I found on the Star Tribune's website called "Frozen face of Minnesota." This news story was actually based off of multimedia rather than the other way around.

Renowned British photographer Martin Parr spent some time in Minnesota documenting the ice and how people interact with it. The Star Tribune had a reporter shadow him while he was here and narrate his trip. The story ran with Parr's photographs, the reporter's writing supporting these photographs, and a video clip of the reporter and another Star Tribune employee discussing the experience in an interview-type setting.

Although this was not a hard news story, it was very interesting to see an example where the writing hinges on the multimedia. In this way I thought they were very complementary, because without the narration of the story, we wouldn't have known as many details of what was happening in the photo. Each section of the story included description and anecdotes of the places Parr took photographs.

I also thought it was interesting the way the Star Tribune included the video of the two reporters discussing the story in addition to the slideshow of Parr's photos. With the story right there, I didn't expect to see a video that basically reiterated the same information, but this was another example of emphasizing multimedia rather than print.

Another example of a news organization emphasizing multimedia is the Minnesota Daily. Many stories are accompanied by single photographs, graphics, or photograph slideshows. The story "Painters today, leaders forever" includes a written story and is accompanied by large main photo and a slideshow of others.

In this case, the photographs complement the writing by helping the reader visually see students putting in time and effort to a nonprofit organization rather than simply reading about it. The dramatic lighting in the photos can catch readers' eyes and draw them into the story perhaps more than the title of this piece could.

The Minnesota Daily also includes videos that are not part of a longer story, but only includes a caption. The recent feature, "The Gopher Chauffeur", is an example of this. A videographer shadows the employees of the late-night free taxi service sponsored by the University to create a documentary-style video. The video includes candid responses from the employees, rowdy students using the service, and even a puke shot.

This story was entirely multimedia, and included almost no text besides the short caption. I felt a story or at least a longer, more descriptive caption would have been a benefit to this story, because although the video was very interesting to watch, I had almost no idea what it was about and under usual circumstances I probably wouldn't have clicked on it.

Analysis: Follow up story for federal building shooting

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By Alysha Bohanon

An interesting example of changes between a original and a follow up story is found in the Associated Press's original story "2 Dead, 1 Hurt In Calif. Federal Building Shooting" from WSLS 10 News and their follow up story a few hours later, "1 dead, 1 hurt in Calif. federal building shooting" from the Associated Press website.

Although both of these stories ran on the same day, the rapid developments in the story (as shown in their titles) demonstrates the changes that occur in follow up stories.

Between the original and follow up story, the AP learned many new details about the incident. The most drastic of these was a correction: only one person was dead, not two as the original reported. The headlines quickly announce this change, but the new details are further explained in the leads.

The original story's lead stated, "Two people were fatally shot and one was wounded Thursday at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Long Beach, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press." This lead has the incorrect number of people killed, but it also has no information on who the shooter or the people are.

The follow up story's lead stated, "A federal immigration agent shot and wounded a colleague at their office, before the gunman was killed by a third agent, the FBI says." This lead has the correct number of victims, but it also gives many more specifics about the incident. We now know that all of the people involved were federal agents and that the shooter was the one person who died after a third agent stepped in.

The first story addressed what was known from a law enforcement official first then moved on to a statement released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The follow up story described the events that were known of the incident in chronological order, then went on to list what was still unknown, such as names and the specific reason for the dispute, and quotes from sources. It also explains why the original report had the wrong death count.

The follow up story greatly advances the story by including the correct number of deaths, a much more detailed account of the incidient, more description of who the people involved are and what happened to them, and more quotes from sources.

The follow up story is an Associated Press update to their earlier story, and does not appear to be shaped by any competing news agency. It does reference the Los Angeles Times, but it doesn't appear this reference drastically shaped the update. It seemed more of a competition to simply stay ahead of other news sources, which was made evident by the page frequently refreshing on its own with new updates.

Analysis: Structure of hotel shooting story

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By Alysha Bohanon

The article "Man dies after being shot at hotel on Nicollet Mall" from KARE 11 News generally follows the inverted pyramid format, by beginning with the most important information and narrowing down to details near the end.

The story begins with a two-sentence lead. The first sentence briefly describes the shooting. The second explains why it is significant: it is the first homicide in Minneapolis this year. The next two paragraphs give more additional details on who and where.

After the who (except the name of the suspected shooter), what, when, and where are answered, the story goes on to include less important details. This included quotes from two sources: the police spokesperson and a guest of the hotel. The story concludes by asking anyone with information about the shooting to contact police.

Because this was a breaking news story, it generally followed the inverted pyramid, the usual format for hard news. I thought this was effective overall, because in a story such as this I just wanted the facts; however, it diverted from this structure in some instances, such as the quote from the hotel guest. I found this to be ineffective. As I was reading the story, I just wanted to know the 5 W's, and I was still waiting on the why when the story was quoting a seemingly random hotel guest who had no connection to the shooting and wasn't even aware it took place until the next morning. As a reader, I didn't care. I wanted to know why the man was shot, or I wanted the reporter to tell me police didn't know why. Instead, I was holding out for an explanation for the rest of the story and I thought this quote in particular simply slowed me down.

By Alysha Bohanon

The story "Amy Senser's lawyer claims hit-and-run victim was on drugs" in the Star Tribune is an interesting example of attribution because most of the information in the story was based on a motion written by Senser's lawyer to dismiss the case.

The information in the story is mostly attributed to this motion. In some cases, partial quotes contained in the motion are used in the story and attributed to Senser's attorney Eric Nelson, who wrote the motion. Therefore, even when the story credits Nelson with a quote, that quote was taken from the document rather than a verbal statement.

Other sources were briefly mentioned within the story, such as the Phanthavong family's attorney Jim Ballentine and the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Perhaps because the number of sources in this story was fairly small, the author also mentioned two potential sources who could not be reached for comment: Hennepin County attorney's office spokesman Chuck Laszewski and Phanthavong's family and their attorneys. This was slightly confusing to me, however, because later in the story the author said Ballentine was the Phanthavong's family attorney, and he is attributed with a paraphrased quote. The author may have meant the family's other attorneys, but that was not clear.

The motion was mentioned many times throughout the story; sometimes multiple times in the same paragraph. Because of this, the author had to attribute the motion in many different ways. The author placed attributions at varying locations throughout the paragraphs, and used different verbs such as contended, pointed out, states, said, and according to within the attribution.

Overall, I felt this method was an effective way of attributing information, but it was not perfect. It wasn't confusing, but I didn't like the use of "points out." To me, the wording was informal and distracted me from the information more than it should have.

Analysis: use of lead in drunk driving story

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The lead in the Star Tribune story included enough information to update readers who had been following the story while simultaneously drawing in new readers by including unique details of the story.

The story used multiple news elements in the lead. Proximity was one element in the lead, because details about the location (a St. Paul man, Twin Cities airport) could interest readers in these areas. The final element, and possibly the element playing the largest roll in this lead, was emotions. Simply mentioning that the drunk man ran over a child would tug at a reader's heart strings, but the fact that he was on his way to welcome his soldier father home from the war is a unique and devastating situation sure to catch a reader's eye.

The lead also included 4 of the 5 W's: Who, What, Where, and Why. It leaves out the When, because even though the charges were recent, the actual accident happened last month so it is not the most timely. Specific details included where the man was from, what he was charged with, the age of the boy, where the accident took place, and why the boy was there. It was more general on the other W's, and we had to wait until later paragraphs to find out the name of the man and the boy and specifics on the accident.

The lead begins as a straight-forward hard news approach, giving us a general sense of what the story will be about. In addition to this, it also includes important background information that makes the story unique and newsworthy.

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