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April 27, 2007

Survey studies Lations and religion

A recent study was released on Latinos and their religion by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Hispanic Center. The study had a lot to say about where, how and why Latinos worship, and how that affects their views on social and political issues.

This article is a good example of how numbers can be used to the advantage of a journalist. The story here is in the percentages and the numbers. There is no current breaking news on this issue, besides the fact that the survey was released this week.

The AP reporter Eric Gorski wrote an article about the survey. Kim Vo of the San Jose Mercury News did her own reporting, and presumably her own number crunching on this story.

Gorski’s story summarized the findings of the story quite well, though it seems as though he used the same wording as the study, that is ambiguous, such as “ charismatic style of Christianity.? He also wrote about the intersection of ethnicity and religion, that the study looked at. He choose to focus on the ethnicity aspect over the religious aspect. He wrote more about how churches and church leaders were dealing with the new congregants. He didn’t quote any “everyday Joes,? only leaders and experts.

His use of numbers varied. Sometimes he threw a bunch of percentages at the reader all at once, which is informative but sometimes a bit much, leaving the comparison to be made by us. Sometimes he quantified them for us, making the numbers relatable, and these were easier to digest.

Vo took a different approach. She choose to contrast the Roman Catholicism with evangelical Protestantism. She too used the words “charismatic worship,? though after both articles, I’m still unclear as to what exactly that means.

After a few introductory paragraphs summarizing the story, she listed some key findings of the study. I think this is an effective way to get the information out there directly, instead of burying it in the article. It’s easy to get the jist of the article very quickly.

I like the comparisons that she drew between the two religions and how she spelled out what this meant for social and political issues.

The failure of both these articles lies in their dealings with the topics of ethnicity and its effect on religion. I think they relied too heavily on stereotypes, letting the reader draw conclusions through our own biases—for instance what charismatic worship means. It’s hard to escape our own biases, and these stereotypes make it much easier to communicate with the reader. However, the result is a perpetuation of these stereotypes and shallow reporting.


Feds want more power lines

A law passed in 2005 gave the federal government more power in controlling power lines in key areas that were of national interest. This past week, they are attempting to use that power, claiming that state and local governments are failing to act. The state local governments argue that the federal government is taking too much power, and that this gives the energy industry the upper-hand.

This is a complicated issue dealing with levels of governmental bodies, and though relatively boring on the outside, follows a key debate of just how much power the federal government should have, and when they exert their power, in whose interests are they acting.

The AP covered this story, with reporter Devlin Barrett. The story was picked up by many newspapers across the nation, including the Press-Enterprise in southern California. The LA Times put two of their own reporters on the story, since the primary corridors the government is looking at are the northern east coast and the southern part of California. The two reporters on that story are Marc Lifsher and Janet Wilson.

The AP gave a general overview of the story, doing his best to explain the latest news in the situation. They relied heavily on the Department of Energy for their information. The opposition to the new plan does not come until seven paragraphs into the story. He goes on to tell why this would be a good idea, relating it back to the blackouts on the east coast in 2003.

The LA Times stories stated the opposition side’s point of view much higher in the story, and fully explained their point of view. “Critics warned? came in the second paragraph, so right away, the reader knows that there is a controversy here.

The AP article gave the impression that everything is good and well, and because they didn’t give much time to the dissenting opinion, effectively endorsed the move made by the government, simply through omission.

The LA Times article could be criticized for demonizing the federal government with all of the attention given to the opposition. This is exactly what their readership would want to read, because it is heavily California-centric. They were catering to their audience.

Overall, I think that the LA Times did a better job in explaining the controversies, even if they did tend to lean the opposite way of the AP article.

April 8, 2007

Missile Defense System Test

The U.S. military had a successful test of its missile defense system off the coasts of Hawaii this week. It fired a target missile, and then an interceptor missile, successfully blocking the target missile.

The AP wrote about this story as did the World Peace Herald.

The World Peace Herald, based in Washington, D.C., seems to be a skewed publication with obvious interests—hence the name—and I thought their take on this issue would be interesting to examine.

The AP story is straightforward, defining what happened and placing it in the larger context of U.S. defense. They also gave a brief background on where this program came from, that original tests were done in the desert of New Mexico, but they moved to Hawaii for a larger testing space. This is a difficult story to report on because there are many terms used only by the military as well as acronyms. So reporting on this story requires translation for the audience. The AP story did a pretty good job, but some of the terms relating to missiles stayed undefined—though they were familiar. I know the term but I don’t know what it means.

The World Peace Herald version, written by Martin Sieff, spoke military speak. They had a very PR feel to their story, even though their website spouts their commitment to excellence in journalism. They use a variety of acronyms in the article. They do define them, but one sentence had three acronyms in it—hard to decipher. Also, they used quotes from military personal to tell the story, even though the quotes are full of jargon and largely undecipherable. When I was reading it, I got bored. There wasn’t much deciphering for the average audience in this article.

I am willing to guess though, that the World Peace Herald’s article is more accurate, because it gave very specific information. The AP article decided that we didn’t need all of that information—but it gave the general audience a better general idea than the World Peace Herald.

March 24, 2007

Gore to Capitol Hill on Global Warming

Former Vice President Al Gore went to Capitol Hill this week to testify before Congress on the threats of global warming.

The challenge with this story is that the idea is tired--global warming is a hot issue at the moment, and this is more of an update rather than breaking story. The second challenge is to not get too caught up in the bipartisan party politics--and report on them instead of the issue at hand.

William Neikirk of the Chicago Tribune and Felicity Barringer and Andrew C. Revkin of the New York Times both took up the challenge.

Barringer and Revkin started with a delayed lead, emphasizing the theater and antics of the story, rather than the hard news aspect. They effectively used quotes from Gore's speech that were clearly meant to inflame and be very quotable. The article gets long and tedious though, when they start delving into the he said/he said of party politics and the back-and-forths between Gore and other Congressmen. I think it got bogged down here, and I lost interest.

Neikirik also used a delayed lead but focused more on the fact that Gore was the story--his comeback of sorts to Capitol Hill. His story was more about the man and the significance of his return than on what he said.

These were two very different takes on this story, one focusing on conflict and the other focusing on person. I think both were a way to attack this story from a new angle instead of spewing more facts about global warming that everybody already knows.

March 9, 2007

Newt Gingrich--need I say more?

Newt Gingrich, former U.S. House speaker during the Clinton era, admitted to having an affair at the same time that he was impeaching former President Bill Clinton over his involvement with Monica Lewinsky. He was talking on a conservative Christian radio show when he admitted the affair. Some political analysts think that he might be making a move to run for president in 2008.

The New York Times picked up the AP version of this story. The story also made international headlines, including in an Australian paper and the National Post from Canada.

The challenge with this story was getting direct quotes from Gingrich. His quotes on the radio show were long and drawn out. The AP used ellipses on more than one occasion to simplify his words, to make them more readable. From hearing some of the quotes on TV, I think that they only cut out his thinking words, but they still make me wonder what is missing. The National Post solved this problem by using a lot of partial quotes with some prior explanation.

The National Post article puts Gingrich in context, discussing his possible bid for presidency and Rudy Giuliani. The AP article focuses on Gingrich himself, telling more details of his affair, and personal life prior to the affair.

They also have conflicting details in their stories. The AP reports that he asked for a divorce from his second wife while she was recuperating from surgery and the National Post says that she was attending her mother's 84th birthday party.

Overall, I just find this interesting that this came out the way that it did, on a conservative radio show.

March 2, 2007

Dognapped!

In Los Angeles, five Yorkshire terriers were dognapped at a home in Koreatown. Two men entered the home and stole the five dogs at gun point. The entire thing was captured on the family's home security system. The dogs are worth $2,500 each. The family had advertised the dogs, because four were for sale, and the robbers answered the call. The LAPD is looking for information on this subject.

I chose to blog about this news story because of how the story was presented on the LA Times' website. The story includes the short article, the actually security video of the entire robbery, a picture of the dogs dognapped, a still photo of the suspects, and a link to the LAPD news release. I thought this was relevant because of the recent discussion we had on convergence. While this doesn't actually involve a reporter filming, it still shows a way that the LA Times is trying to engage its audience online.

As for the reporting, most of the story is redundant to the video, which starts playing as you access the website. The play by play of the crime is necessary in a strict writing format, but the video shows much better than the writer can describe. The writer, Richard Winton, does provide the necessary background for the video, aiding our understanding of it.

The Washington Post also picked up the story, but only included the photo released by the LAPD. Their story is shorter, and does not provide the play by play that the LA Times article does. They also quote the victims directly, as opposed to the police department, as the LA Times does.

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.

February 11, 2007

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.

February 4, 2007

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.

January 25, 2007

Arrest in '64 Murder

Recently, an arrest was made in a decades old double murder in Mississippi, one that took place in the middle of Ku Klux Klan country, in the middle of the civil rights era. James Ford Seale, 71, was arrested on Wednesday for the murders of Charles Eddie Moore, 19, and Henry Hezekiah Dee, 19. The two were beaten and then drowned in the Mississippi River, attached to a Jeep motor. Seale was arrested back in 1964, but the FBI was focusing on the murders of three civil rights workers (see Mississippi Civil Rights Workers), and turned over the case to the local authorities, who dropped the case. The case was reopened after Moore's brother Thomas, started looking for justice for his brother, after the killing of James Byrd in 1998 (see James Byrd Jr.)

The challenge with this piece was to make it timely--reporting on the latest development, while still filling in the back story --most people would not have heard of this story before, or if they had, would not remember. The AP did a nice job in summarizing all of the basic information, including how Seale was arrested in 1964 and then released and why. An article from the Jackson (Mississippi) Clarion Ledger had a much longer, more in-depth piece, that would probably be too in depth for the general American audience. The Clarion Ledger gives a detailed description of the crime, and what led up to the arrest on Wednesday. They could do so because of the local interest in the case. Its story was also full of local quotes, opinions, from Thomas Moore, the brother of one of the victims, and also local law enforcement. It was a more in-depth article over-all.

The AP story uses a slightly delayed lead, referring to how Seale was up before a black woman judge, showing just how much the times have changed. The Ku Klux Klan is also mentioned three times in first 3 paragraphs, something that people love to read about (love to hate). The Clarion Ledger also uses a delayed lead, mentioning how Seale scoffed at the idea of being arrested just 6 years before. This teases the in-depth part of the article that is to come (6 years earlier...read the article for more). This lead also mentions the Ku Klux Klan twice in the first two sentences. Both leads do their job of the getting the reader interested, though, despite the seeming wealth of evidence against him, Seale has not even been indicted yet. This fact seems to be lost a little, because of the nature and timing of the crime.

Don't get me wrong, I think that the re-opening of cases from the Civil Rights era is a great thing, very justified, and the victims deserve their day in court. But do the articles go too far in vilifying this arrested man? I don't know, because I can see the justification. The articles do say arrested for, on charges of, but that all gets lost between the words murder, civil rights era, and Ku Klux Klan.