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February 25, 2007


It's snowing in Minnesota, hard, and both local papers had to report on the story. Both papers have multiple stories.

The challenge with this story is to make something very obvious--that it's snowing--into hard news. All the stories also provide a public service, giving snow emergency information, and how to prepare. They are also providing a service for the public, encouraging people to stay home, and stay off of the roads.

It is also a challenge to get people to read these stories, because they are filled with such boring, yet useful information. So they tried to take different angles, one using the snow to say how it can't stop the Wild from playing, or travel delays, or how certain ordinary people are dealing with the snow.

There are even interactive polls on the websites, asking how much snow will fall.

I'd think it wouldn't be so much of a crisis, considering we live in Minnesota. But then again, if the newspaper doesn't report on the obvious, how does it keep its credibility?

Muslim leaders meet

The prime minister of Pakistan is calling for a diplomatic end to the conflict with Iran. Ministers from seven countries are set to meet in Saudi Arabia, primarily to discuss the Palestinian problem. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf believes the Palestinian problem to be the root of the terrorism problem.

The AP's version of this story was picked up by papers world wide, seen here in the New York Times. The Boston Globe picked up the Reuter's version.

This is an example of a news conference story. Both versions discuss the remarks made by the prim minister and president at a news conference before the actually meeting started. The articles provide as much background as is necessary, though much isn't because of the prevalence of the Middle East in the news.

The articles choose different focuses. The Reuters article focuses on the Palestinian angle, putting the perspective of Middle Eastern countries, rather than attacking this from the U.S. centric angle.

The AP article focuses on the talks about Iran, which is more in the forefront of the American consciousness.

I think both are important, and I don't know which one I would have choose as the lead. The Iran crisis is more important to American readers at the moment, but there is always interest in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

February 20, 2007

Ban this book?

The recent winner of the Newbery Medal, which is one of the most prestigious awards for children fiction writing, is evoking some controversy because of its use of the word scrotum. Susan Patron's "The Higher Power of Lucky" uses the word on the first page of the book, and some librarians, teachers and parents are up-set about this. One librarian calls it a "Howard Stern-type shock." The author defends use of this word, saying that they don't see the word in context, just the word itself. She says she chose the word because:

“The word is just so delicious,? Ms. Patron said. “The sound of the word to Lucky is so evocative. It’s one of those words that’s so interesting because of the sound of the word.?

Many papers picked up Julie Bosman's take on this story, including the Pioneer Press and the New York Times.

The interesting thing about this story was that much of the discussion of this issue was through a librarian listserv and blogs. This is also a challenge in this story. The reporters can't use chatter from the blogs in their stories. They need substantial people. That involved going out and finding out who wrote the blogs, and who had heard of the issue.

Bosman credited Publisher's Weekly with breaking the story, but I'm venturing a guess that they picked up the story by monitoring blogs.

There is also a challenge with this piece because it is being received differently throughout the U.S. Bosman does a good job of providing an overview of where the book might and is banned, but also provides specific examples of places and specific people.

The story was also picked up in other countries, including in Australia's The Australian. James Bone of the Australian uses virtually the same quotes as Bosman, but does not go nearly as in depth. This is a more general story, because Australia doesn't really care exactly where the book is being banned; only that it is being banned.

February 18, 2007

Tires used to create coral reef?

In the 70s, across the coastal United States, someone decided that tires could be ideal places to start new coral reefs and rebuild the ocean's reefs. Thirty years later, officials realized that dream would never happen, and they need to start thinking about removing the tires from the oceans. The latest plan is to use navy divers to remove the tires, as part of their training and free of charge to Florida.

Many papers, including The New York Times, picked up the AP coverage of this story. The Miami Herald wrote its own version of this story.

The challenge with this story is explaining the rationale of the 1970s that thought that tires could be a marine lifesaver, instead of just garbage. The Miami Herald chose to focus on the latest plan to remove the tires, while the AP story focused more on the back story, the how did we get here. The Herald does this as well, but uses the plan to use Navy divers to remove the tires as a lead.

The Miami audience is more familiar with the tire story than most of the nation is, I'm assuming, therefore they can chose a more specific lead than the AP. The AP chose the broader story to interest the nation, which is, of course, what the heck, and why. It worked, because it got picked up in papers from Minneapolis to Beijing to France.

I love the photos that the papers use, an ocean floor covered with tires.

Parents lie in baby's death

Two parents lied about how their baby received life-ending injuries. And now the father has been charged with second degree unintentionally murder in his daughter's death.

The Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported on this story.

Both stories use a slightly delayed lead to tell this story. And then use a shorter sentence to turn.

The Star Tribune said:

If so, it wasn't the first time, according to court documents filed Friday.

The Pioneer Press said:

Both stories were lies, police say.

Both stories detail the original story the parents told and then get into what medical evidence said, and what the father later admitted to in an affidavit. This story is also a follow-up--the original story was about the suspicious death of this child. But the actual story is the most interesting part of this story.

Both stories go long in-depth on both parts of the story, which can be confusing if not told correctly or blurred together. This happens a little in both stories.

The Pioneer Press story includes new information because it was posted later than the Star Tribune article. But neither has been updated since.

Shooting in London

There has been more gun violence in the streets on London. Another teenager was shot and killed this weekend. This is the latest in many shootings that have caused the British public to question whether their country was declining. With the recent surge in violence is likening

The New York Times reported on this story, as did the New Zealand Herald. The challenge with this story was to use a current event to comment on a a larger social trend, especially when the public itself is commenting on these latest trends.

The New York Times put the words of the trend in the words of the police commissioner, getting him to say it, instead of just implying this trend throughout the story. They also cite the prevalence of violence as part of the problem.

The London metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, has called for a discussion of proposals to lower the age at which a mandatory five-year jail term is imposed for carrying a gun, from 21 to 17. Sir Ian said the police had detected a “new trend? toward violent crime among young people.

Reporter Alan Cowell chose to use recent crime statistics to add to this story.

According to police figures, murders and gun crime fell slightly in London last year, to 178 killings and about 3,300 offenses in which guns were used. But the recent violence has fueled a debate about social decline.

These statistics are especially effective because they go against the conventional wisdom that gun violence is increasing. Even so, people are debating this issue.

The story also gets political, by quoting a politician from the opposing party criticize the politics of the current government.

The New Zealand Herald piece, by Mark Townsend and Ned Temko, focuses more directly on the most recent story, the gun violence on Saturday. They tell the story chronologically describing the shooting in detail, and then they relate it to two other shootings that occurred recently. This links it to the broader picture later, and not nearly as in depth as the New York Times story. They too, though, quote the police commissioner. They also feature quotes by politicians on what is wrong and where the country should be going.

The story was the same but they chose to focus on slightly different aspects and tell the story in slightly different ways. The New York Times spent more time on the trends and the New Zealand Herald spent more time focusing on the latest story.

February 11, 2007

Putin criticizes U.S.

Russian president Vladimir Putin made a thirty minute speech at the U.N. on Sat. Feb. 10, criticizing U.S. foreign policy and its seeming unilateral over world politics and policies. He says that the world is a more dangerous place now than it was at any time during the Cold War. He has a problem with the expansion of NATO into the Baltics, and the increased U.S. presence around the world.

Putin says that the world is now unipolar, from the New York Times:

“One single center of power. One single center of force. One single center of decision making. This is the world of one master, one sovereign.?

The New York Times and the Washington Post carried this story. The St. Paul Pioneer Press picked up the New Yorks Times' version. The Star Tribune picked up the Las Angeles Times version.

The challenge with this story is there is a lot of talking--the story is about a speech. No specific actions were taken. The key for this type of story is balance the words of the speech with reaction from as many sides as possible.

The New York Times' reporters Thom Shanker and Mark Landler included a lot of paraphrasing of the speech itself, and some direct quotes. They also gathered reactions from Senator John McCain, a White House spokesman, two other senators, and by statements such as:

With the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, the American defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, and a Congressional delegation sitting stone-faced, Mr. Putin warned that the power amassed by any nation that assumes this ultimate global role “destroys it from within.

The Washington Post's Thomas E. Ricks and Craig Whitlock also had many direct quotations, but not the same ones as the New York Times--showing that one person's opinion of a good quote is not the same as another's. They included reactions from the White House, NATO Secretary General, and two senators. They, too, commented on the reactions of the delegation during the speech:

During Putin's 32-minute address, several members of the U.S. delegation frowned or looked away. Gates, a professional Sovietologist, stared down at notes he was writing. Asked for comment afterward, Gates smiled and shook his head.

Both papers did a nice job of letting Putin's words speak for themselves, without inserting commentary of their own. I think they effectively got across how the U.S. delegation reacted with their key word choices in those quotations I mentioned. This shows the use of quotations and also how the U.S. press can deal with criticism of the U.S.

3M pollutants in Woodbury

A chemical has been linked into the groundwater in areas around a Woodbury drop site, where Minnesota company 3M dumped chemicals in the 60s. Though the health department doesn't really know if the chemicals are harmful to humans, they are telling worried residents to drink bottled water or filter their water.

The Star Tribune first reported on this story on Feb. 3. This version of the story deals more with the what of the story, rather than the so what. It discusses the problem and what 3M is asked to do about this--figure out a plan within the next 30 days.

The Pioneer Press chose to do a larger feature article on the repercussions of this event, and published it in Sun., Feb. 11's newspaper. This story serves as a follow-up to what they reported around the same time as the Star Tribune article. This story focuses on the people, and their concerns, what they're doing about this. It also provides detailed information about public meetings.

Those these two are hard to compare because they focuses are different, I think that maybe the Star Tribune missed the follow-up part of this story, which seems to be needed because of the information in the Pioneer Press article. This brings up the question of how much to report, how in depth do we need to go, how many people do we talk to, which needs to be answered for every story.

Snickers Super Bowl Ad

Snickers maker, Masterfood USA, a division of Mars, was forced to take one of its Super Bowl ads off the air and off of its website. The ad shows two mechanics accidentally kiss over a snickers bar. In response, they rip open their shirts, revealing their hairy chests, and rip out large clumps of chest hair, presumably to reinforce their masculinity. The ad was also posted on a Snickers website, which offered alternative endings, including one where the mechanics threaten each other with wrenches and the like.

This ad has come under fire by gay organizations, citing that the ads are harmful to gays, encouraging anti-gay thoughts, and, in some alternate endings, encouraging violence against gays.

USA Today covered this story, the Wednesday after the ad was first aired at the Super Bowl. The challenge with this story was representing all sides of the issue. There is the candy company's side, which was just trying to make a funny commercial that would create some buzz. Then, there are the gay organizations and the gay community that objected to the ad. Then, there is the gay sports enthusiast who found no problem with the ad and doesn't see why it is offensive. USA also chose to cover the angle of what do they do now, by talking to a crisis management expert.

The Associated Press also picked up this story. They placed the ad more in context, describing the website that the alternate endings were on, and the reactions of football teams members to the ad that were also on the website. They too spoke to GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and The Human Rights Campaign about their reactions to the ad. They also talked to a Masterfoods spokeswoman.

Neither story went that in depth, probably because of the brevity of both types, USA Today and AP writing. Though this story wasn't really picked up by the major papers on its own. I actually found out about it from a advocacy organization on campus, not through the news media. I don't know why this wasn't picked up by more organizations, and I haven't heard much else about it.

Though both stories were brief, they managed to get a lot of information, from as many sides as possible.

MySpace as a source? Everyone can see the Internet?

Recently, I came upon a news brief in the Pioneer Press about a Macy's employee that was giving extra discounts to friends, whenever they came into the store. The store manager noticed when this employee has an abnormally large amount of purchases discounted at 75 percent.

Initially, I was interested in the story because I used to work in retail. Then I kept reading. At the bottom of the story, the third to last paragraph, it reads:

In cyberspace, though, Collett lists 97 "friends" on his page at MySpace.com.

"Could always use more buddies," he wrote. "Oh, and as you can see, I'm dangerioulsy (sic) Man-Prety (sic) … you've been warned."

I did a double-take, did they really just quote a MySpace page in a large daily newspaper? Looking over the rest of the article, the reporter, David Hanners, sourced an affidavit written by John C. Bolt, a police officer, and also David Thomalla, the Maplewood police chief. He even talked to the spokesman for the Ramsey County attorney's office. There is no mention of contacting Matthrew Collett, the accused, or his lawyer. Instead, just this strange reference to Collett's MySpace page.

I found this odd for two reasons. One, at the very least, the reporter did not say that he tried to contact Collett--he very well might have, but I don't know. I only see the affadavit. And two, that the information from the MySpace page was used.

At first, this seems like an invasion of privacy, though I know it is perfectly legal, since Collett chose to put this information on the Internet. However, it still doesn't sit well with me. It is hard to validate the identity of anyone on MySpace, much less someone one needs to write a story about. Also, the information presented on MySpace is for a very different audience than for a reporter. I know it's easily accessed by the public, but it wasn't meant for that purpose.

I think it just serves as a reminder, in this share everything age, that ANYONE can see whatever you write on the internet, including this blog entry (it showed up as the second hit when I googled my name earlier). So be careful!

There may be some nosy journalist out there looking to make a fool out of you.

(And if that isn't reminder enough, check out the political cartoons from Saturday's Pioneer Press...there is another helpful reminder.)

February 4, 2007

Press Freedom in Zimbabwe

Free press in Zimbabwe is under fire attack by its government. The country is in its seventh year of economic depression and is experiencing hyper-inflation, over 1,200 percent a year. It has only two remaining free newspapers--those not directly controlled by the government.

I found two articles on this topic, one in the Washington Post and another in the New Zealand Herald. The Washington Post focused on a specific event that happened recently while the New Zealand Herald took a more general approach, a story of the culmination of a lot of little stories about the degradation of freedom of the press in Zimbabwe.

The challenge with this story was the recent history of Zimbabwe, and how that is involved with the current news. Craig Timberg of the Washington Post managed to sum up the recent history, and to paint a picture of the problems in that country at the moment, with key details like their rate of inflation and the state their government is in. He also managed to encompass the wider story of the safety of journalists all over the world, by including the organization Reporters Without Borders. He mentioned the record number of journalist killed or arrested worldwide, making this part of a world problem in the larger social context. This story also made the issue of freedom of the press more interesting because it dealt directly with a death threat--a bullet mailed to the editor of a paper that published an unflattering political cartoon of the military. This international perspective made the story more relevant to the US audience in a more obvious way, even though the story should be seen as relevant be itself.

The Ed Ceasar of the New Zealand Herald took a wider perspective of this story, focusing on the many number of things that have been chipping away at the free presses in Zimbabwe. He took a national focus, instead of the wider international context. New Zealand has a lot of Zimbabwean exiles, and many of them are still concerned with what is going on in their country, and many still have friends or relatives back there. So the more focused approach is relevant. Ceasar also does a good job of summarizing a lot of recent problems with the press.

Sheriff's Aide Being Investigated By FBI

Mark Naylon, an aide for Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, is being investigated by the FBI on allegations of stealing money, tampering with evidence, and helping suspects and informants. Fletcher is sticking by Naylon, calling him a good friend and an asset to the department.

The Pioneer Press and The Star Tribune picked up the story.

The challenge with this story is that it is almost a non-story. My summary is pretty much all that they know, because the investigation just started, and won't be discussed. They also had a challenge in making in balanced because Naylon was unavailable for comment and his lawyer also made no comment.

To make this long enough to be a full article, both papers did background digging on Naylon. Paul McEnroe, Mary Lynn Smith and Howie Padilla, the reporters for the Star Tribune wrote of his background and his history in the city. They talked of his business ventures and also discussed some unflattering comments made by police--interfering with investigations. This information was clear and easy to follow, and with an exception to the last part, wasn't too controversial or damning.

Mara H. Gottfried of the Pioneer Press took a different approach in the background information. She discussed a specific case that occurred in 2003. This introduced new people to the story and seemed a little confusing to me. It didn't seem to fit and I wasn't sure exactly why I was reading it.

I thought that the Star Tribune did a better job in giving me relevant background information, and facing the challenge of turning a one-line story into a full article.

Executive Branch and Control of Regulation

President Bush issued an executive order last week that allows presidential appointees to oversee and approve the actions of government agencies. This puts more control in the hands of the executive branch, giving them control over what Federal agencies can and cannot do, and what they have power over. The White House claims that the move will make agencies more accountable, but critics think it puts too much power in the hands of the president. The likely result of this is less regulation of businesses--so it is being championed by business groups. Consumer, labor, and environmental groups say it reduces the effectiveness of the agencies and makes it harder to protect the overall public good. Also, no one really knows how legal or constitutional this act is, because it has never been done before. No one knows how it will stand up in court.

This story was picked up by the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The New York Times had a lengthy story which covered the story from many, many angles. The reporter, Richard Pear, talked to a lot of people and got many different sides of the story. The challenge with this story is to make it understandable and interesting to the public. It's a story about government policy, which many people are likely to go, so what and who cares. Pear manages to make the story matter. He went beyond reporting the what, to reporting the so what. He also made it matter even more by tying it to the nomination of Susan E. Dudley to be administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget. This will likely come up in Congress this session, making it relevant and timely. So Pear went beyond the obvious and managed to make some connections between political happenings in Washington that are boring and confusing to the average reader.

The Washington Post published an article from Reuters, by Tabassum Zakaria. Zakaria faced the challenge fo making this understandable and interesting. She too succeeded in breaking it down for the reader, but not nearly as in depth as the New York Times' article. She also provided quite a bit of information from those who viewed the new order hostility. There were a few quotes from those for the new policy, but they didn't seem as strong. She provided cold, hard numbers, "4,000 regulations a year...192,000 regulations that exist" which helps to put the story in perspective. Zakaria took the more obvious path, not going as in depth as Pear.