May 1, 2007

Writing and Reporting the Story...

The previous blog entry you'll find a story that I wrote earlier this semester for my JOUR3121 Intermediate News Reporting and Writing class. There were many different aspects of the reporting and writing that had to be taken into account while working on the story, which I would like to address here.

How I reported the story.
As stated in the previous blog entry, I was assigned to do a story about a civil complaint. I went downtown to the Hennepin County Government Center, searched through a large stack of civil complaints, and picked one that I thought was interesting enough. In addition to reading the complaint multiple times, I began my reporting by calling the plaintiff’s lawyer. After multiple attempts, I unfortunately never heard back from them. The defendant’s lawyer wasn’t listed in the complaint. I tried to get a hold of all of the parties listed as defendants in the complaint, but both roofing and siding companies weren’t listed in the phone book. This was a major frustration. With the encouragement of my professor, I called the family that was named in the suit and luckily got a hold of someone. Although I couldn’t reach everyone that I desired for this story, speaking with the family, who was directly involved with the suit, was a very helpful in my understanding the suit.

Main challenge in writing the story.
The main challenge in writing this story was how to remain fair and unbiased without ever talking to any of the defendants. Besides the public record of the complaint, the only information that I had came directly from the family. To solve this challenge, I ended up having to keep my story very short and to-the-point, based mostly on what was in the civil complaint. In addition to information gained from the family about what was lost in the flood, I used only one quote to illustrate their disappointment with the whole ordeal. Without equal representation from both sides, I kept my story shorter and very focused on the actual facts of the complaint.

Alternative storytelling approaches.
Looking back on how I reported the story, it is obvious that there were many opportunities for additional coverage. For example, I could have taken the time to go visit the house and take pictures or video footage for the story. When I finally got a hold of the family the day before the story was due, the son suggested to me that he could mail me some photographs he had taken of the flood damage. Being that my story was due the next day, I kindly thanked him but let him know that the photos wouldn’t be of any help to me since my deadline was tomorrow. If I had spoken to the family earlier in the week, that definitely would have been a possibility.

A taste of civil court reporting...

THE FOLLOWING IS A STORY THAT I WROTE THIS SEMESTER FOR MY JOUR3121 INTERMEDIATE NEWS REPORTING AND WRITING CLASS. For the assignment we had to go downtown, look through a copy of recently-filed civil complaints and pick one that we thought would be interesting enough to write a story about. Here's how mine turned out:

On Feb. 12, 2007, an insurance company of a Golden Valley family filed suit against two Minnesota construction companies for failing to do a good job fixing a roof. The family, however, believes they should sue the insurance company for negligence in dealing with a flood that was caused by the faulty roof repair.

In May of 2004, the suit alleges, Manuel Binder and his son, Kirby Binder, hired Empire Roofing and Siding of Chaska to repair the roof of their home. Casas, Miller and Kobernick, Inc. of Bloomington was hired as a subcontractor.

In February 2005, after the roof had been repaired, the Binder’s home had severe water damage due to a leaking roof.

Kirby Binder said the flood was mainly caused by a plugged center roof drain. He said after the flood there was one to two inches of standing water in the basement of their home.

Some of the carpet and furniture were damaged, and Kirby Binder estimated that he and his father lost thousands of dollars in personal property, including an original, bound edition of Dr. Seuss’s “Cat in the Hat.? The book was given to Manuel Binder when he was a child.

Kirby Binder said that Illinois Farmers Insurance didn’t come to their home to clean and pack things up until a week after the flood occurred. When they did, they put everything that was wet into boxes and threw it all away, he said.

After the Binders submitted a claim for the damaged property, Illinois Farmers Insurance reimbursed them for $72,656.45. Illinois Farmers Insurance is now trying to recover the money from Empire Roofing and Siding and Casas, Miller and Kobernick Inc.

In the suit, which was filed in Hennepin County District Court, Illinois Farmers Insurance asks for damages no less than $73,000.

But Illinois Farmers Insurance was vastly negligent, said Kirby Binder. “They treated our family with disrespect,? he said, “and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to have them as an insurance company.?

The Binders live at1020 Angelo Drive in Golden Valley and hold an insurance policy with Illinois Farmers Insurance, an Illinois-based insurance company that is authorized to do business in the state of Minnesota.

Lawyers for Illinois Farmers Insurance could not be reached for comment.


April 25, 2007

Santana looses back-to-back home starts for the first time in two years

After having been at yesterday's game, feeling pretty sorrowful at Santana's back-to-back loses and that the Twins have lost the past four out of five games, I thought I'd make my last blog entry about the Twins dissapointing season.

The Pioneer Press posted a story about on their website today titled, "Santana has April blahs." According to their story, "Johan Santana looks nothing like an ace, nothing like an all-star, barely even like someone who is going to win a game this season."

The Star Tribune also posted a story on their website today about Santana's second loss of the season. Their story stated that every five days, opponents fret over how to beat the Cy Young winner. But this season teams like Cleveland and Tampa Bay have been getting lukcy.

But the Pioneer Press says fans shouldn't worry. It was just one year ago that Santana began the season with mediocre pitching, and he ended up winning another Cy Young award. The story also quoted Santan's cather, Joe Mauer, as saying, "Every year, he just gets better and better throughout the year. I think you'll see it, too."


April 24, 2007

17-year-old girl fakes kidnapping

A 17-year-old girl from Plymoth, Minn. faked her own kidnapping, authorities say.

The story aired on KSTP's Chanel 5 Eyewitness news at 10 p.m. lsat night. There was also a story about the alleged kidnapping on their website today.

The story reported that, according to Plymouth Police, Elizabeth Bernstein called 911 and said she had been kidnapped at gunpoint from Armstrong High School.

The story also quoted Sgt. Joe Gebhardt as saying, "Right around the time the alert went out our investigation yielded some information where we no longer believe it's credible."

The Star Tribune also posted a story about the false kidnapping on their website today. They didn't name the 17-year-old girl but said she was the subject of a statewide crime alert on Monday.

The Star Tribune reported that Bernstein had called 911 about 12:57 a.m. Sunday alleging that she had been kidnapped and placed in the trunk of a car by at least one person.

They also reported that the Bernstein turned up unharmed Monday evening, but police declined to say where the girl was found and how police had come to the conclusion the story likely was false.

KSTP's story stated that a person has been arrested and charged with obstruction of justice.

April 23, 2007

17-year-old arrested in St. Paul bus shooting

St. Paul police have arrested a suspect in Sunday's fatal shooting that occurred on a Metro Transit bus.

According to a story posted today on Kare 11's website, Police spokesman Tom Walsh says the 17-year-old was taken into custody Sunday.

The victim was 16-year-old Earl Freeman of St. Paul.

Kare 11 also reported that witnesses told police that two groups of people riding the bus were having a dispute shortly before the shooting occurred and that police don't yet know if the shooting was gang-related.

The Star Tribune also posted a story about the arrest on their website today. They reported that the suspect "reportedly left the bus through a rear exit, then popped back into the bus and fired the fatal shot. He then fled on foot."

The Star Tribune also reported that the suspect was identified early on in the investigation.

As of 11:00 a.m., the Pioneer Press had't posted a story about the arrest of the suspect. The only story on their website about the Metro Transit shooting is an article posted Sunday at 11:59 p.m. that states that, "A suspect in the killing is still at large."


April 20, 2007

Bomb Threat at the University of Minnesota

A bomb threat Wednesday at the University of Minnesota led to an evacuation of thousands of students and staff from eight buildings on the East Bank campus. No bomb as found when the Minneapolis bomb squad searched the buildings and the buildings reopened for classes this morning.

On the front page of the Minnesota Daily today ran a story about the bomb threat. The Dialy reported that a note was found by a University sophomore in a campus bathroom.

According to the Daily, the note read: "I am sick and tired of these buildings and people who operate in them. Today before 10 pm (sic) I am going to bomb them simultaniously (sic), I have nothing to lose."

The Pioneer Press posted a story about the bomb threat on their website today. Along with the story ran a picture of the note.

In their story, the Pioneer Press reported that students and faculty said they were concerned it took more than an hour to get the official word to the whole campus about what was happening.

Campus buildings were evacuated around 1:15 p.m. The Daily reported that around 2:40 students began receiving emergency announcement e-mails from the University. The Pioneer Press stated that some students didn't receive an official email until 4:15 p.m.

According to the Pioneer Press, Kathleen O'Brien, vice president for university services, said the U recognized the delayed e-mails were a concern and would examine the alert system. "We're talking over 80,000 people in the system," O'Brien said. "It just takes that long technologically."



April 18, 2007

Two men found shot to death in Minneapolis alley

Minneapolis Police were called to the 4700 block of north Minneapolis in the Lind-Bohanan neighborhood around eleven last night where they found the dead bodies of two men in an alley.

The Star Tribune posted a story about the deaths on their website today. They reported that a resident of that neighborhood "was drifting off to sleep around 11 p.m. Tuesday when she heard a popping sound outside her bedroom window." The woman stepped outside to investigate and was told by police that two men had been shot in an alley near her garage.

Kare 11 posted a much smaller Associated Press story about the shooting deaths on their website today. The AP story stated that "police haven't said whether it appears that the men were shot where their bodies were found or whether the men were shot somewhere else and their bodies moved to the alley."

Kare 11's story stated that the police were called to the 4700 block of north Minneapolis, but called it the Camden neighborhood .

Thus far, no arrests have been made and the names of the victims haven't been released. Minneapolis police have planned a press briefing for 10:30 a.m. today at the 4th Precinct Station.

April 17, 2007

Massacre at Virginia Tech

On the front page of almost every newspaper in the nation today ran a story about yesterday's massacre at Virginia Tech. Almost every paper, that is, except for the Minnesota Daily.

The school shooting took up half of the front page of today's Star Tribune, but in the Minnesota Daily, there was no mention of the shooting until an Associated Press story that ran on page 6. On the Minnesota Daily's website today there is no story about the shooting.

An Associated Press story about the gunman was posted on the Star Tribune website today. The story labeled the killer as a "sullen loner who alarmed professors and classmates with his twisted, blood-drenched creative writing..." The AP story reported that a picture of Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old senior majoring in English, was released to the media today. The Star Tribune printed the photo; the AP story called it "chilling."

The Associated Press story also claimed that news reports said that Seung-Hui may have been taking medication for depression and that he was becoming increasingly violent and erratic.

A similar Associated Press story about the killer's identity was posted on the Pioneer Press website today. This AP story was less about the killer, more focused on yesterday's events. In this story's headline, they called Seung-Hui a "Virginia Tech senior from South Korea." The story also mentioned that yesterday's shooting is deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history.

April 12, 2007

Oetwig to resign from St. Paul school board

St. Paul's longest-serving school board member, Al Oertwig , said he will resign effective this morning rather than fight suggestions he viewed child pornography on a library computer.

The Pioneer Press posted a story about the resignation on their website this morning. They reported that according to a police report, security officers at Metropolitan State University caught a man watching child pornography on a library computer last month and concluded he logged on as school board member Al Oertwig.

The Pioneer Press also reported that Oetwig defended himself Wednesday night by stating, ""The allegation of child pornography is absolutely, totally false." They also reported that Oetwig said he is stepping down from the board after nearly 20 years to avoid a distraction for the district.

The Star Tribune posted a small story on their website about the resignation today. They didn't state any details of the allegation of child pornography, but did report that Oertwig, 62, has served on the school board for 20 years.

Interestingly, toward the end of their story, the Pioneer Press mentioned the fact that Oertwig is openly gay.

April 11, 2007

Capella University puts financial aid chief on paid leave

Minneapolis-based Capella University put its financial aid chief on paid leave Tuesday amid an investigation into the school's relationships with student loan companies. Timothy C. Lehmann was alledgedly on the payroll for a student lending agency.

The Star Tribune posted a story about the financial aid investigation on their website today. They reported that, according to a letter sent to Capella by the New York attorney general's office, Lehmann is being investigated for doing consulting work for a student lending agency, Student Loan Xpress Inc. (SLX), at the same time he was working for Capella.

The Star Tribune stated that Capella is an online university with offices in downtown Minneapolis and a worldwide enrollment of 18,000 students.

According to the Star Tribune, "The letter cited a concern that Lehmann 'may have received payments' for making the company one of its 'preferred lenders'. Students may therefore have been left with the false impression that SLX... was preferred because it was the best for students and their parents when in reality the company was selected, at least in part, because of its payments to Mr. Lehmann."

The Star Tribune also reported that between late 2005 and early 2006 Lehman made $12,400 as a consultant for SLX. He is the only Capella employee being investigated.

The Pioneer Press posted a similar story about the financial aid investigation on their website today. They reported that Capella began examining its practices in light of national concern after the New York attorney general's office began examining preferred relationships between student loan firms and colleges. They also reported that Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson also is seeking similar data from loan companies and state schools.

The Pioneer Press also reported that the company that owns Student Loan Xpress announced Monday that three top executives had been placed on administrative leave. The University of Texas and University of Southern California also have placed their top financial aid officials on paid leave amid conflict of interest investigations.



April 10, 2007

DNA shows Birkhead is the father of Anna Nicole Smith's daughter

According to DNA tests, Larry Birkhead is the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s daughter. Birkhead emerged from a court hearing earlier today to proclaim that his daughter would soon be home.

MSNBC posted an Associated Press story about the DNA finding's on their website today. The same exact story appeared on the Star Tribune's website.

The Associated Press reported that after the trial, Birkhead hugged his rival, Howard K. Stern, Smith’s lawyer-turned-companion who has been caring for baby Dannielynn since Smith's sudden death in February. They also reported that the hearing left unresolved who will have custody of the baby girl, and that another custody hearing is scheduled for Friday.

Kare 11 also posted a story about the DNA findings on their website today. They reported that Dr. Michael Baird, an expert in genetic evidence, said DNA analysis proved Birkhead is Dannielynn's father after he analyzed the results of a March 21 DNA test. Kare 11 also reported that Stern would not seek custody of the child.

Both the Associated Press story and Kare 11's ended by stating that baby Dannielynn could inherit millions from the estate of Smith's late husband, J. Howard Marshall II. Smith had been fighting the Texas oil tycoon's family over his estimated $500 million fortune since his death in 1995.

April 3, 2007

U of M student dies after fall

A University of Minnesota first-year student died Sunday at the Hennepin County Medical Center after he fell from the third level of a parking ramp.

The Minnesota Daily posted a story on their website today about the student's death. They reported that Kyle Sharbonno, 19, died from injuries caused by the fall, which happened at the Oak Street Parking Ramp. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner has not released the exact cause of death. They also reported that University police said no foul play is suspected.

The Daily stated that, according to the University police report, "an officer responded to a report of an 'intoxicated male stumbling in the lobby/elevator area of the parking ramp' at 1:36 a.m." Sharbonno reportedly climbed over a ledge in the parking ramp to sit, then fell off.

Kare 11 posted a small story about the student's death on their website today. They reported that, according to police and the student's father, Sharbonno was sitting on a ledge of the Oak Street ramp shortly after 1:30 Sunday morning when he slipped and fell, landing on a sidewalk and hitting his head. They also reported that Sharbonno was from Prior Lake.

Both stories mentioned the recent death of University of Minnesota student Elomo Lenya, who drowned in a swimming pool last Thursday in a New Brighton apartment complex.

Missing Red Lake boys found dead

Two young brothers missing since November from the Red Lake Indian Reservation were found dead in an icy lake Sunday morning.

The Pioneer Press posted a story on their website today about the missing brothers. They reported that "Ralph S. Boelter, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Minneapolis office, said the bodies of Tristan Anthony White, 4, and Avery Lee Stately, 2, were found 'encased in ice' in a thawing portion of First Thunders Lake, about a half mile from their home."

The Pioneer Press also reported that Tristan and Avery were playing outside their house in the Walking Shield area of Red Lake in Northern Minnesota when they disappeared the morning of Nov. 22. Their disappearance prompted a five-day search that spanned the Thanksgiving weekend and included hundreds of volunteers, as well as search dogs and aircraft used by the FBI.

The Star Tribune posted a similar story on their website today, stating that the boy's ice-encased bodies were found Sunday morning in 6 to 10 feet of water by a St. Louis County volunteer search squad.

They also reported that the boy's "last journey together apparently took them down the dirt driveway from their modest home, across the paved cul-de-sac that stitches their Walking Shield neighborhood and then fatefully through 50, maybe 75 yards of thick, brambled woods to the shore of Thunder's First Lake."

Both stories also mentioned the fact that the tradgedy came two years after the shooting deaths of several students at Red Lake High School and others that happened in March 2005.


March 29, 2007

Court rules that NWA attendants can't strike

The U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, upheld an injunction this morning that prohibits Northwest Airlines flight attendants from striking.

The Star Tribune posted a story about the injunction on their website today, stating that Northwest imposed work terms on the attendants July 31 after the attendants rejected a second tentative agreement that contained pay cuts. Northwest wanted the attendants to agree to concessions that would save the bankrupt carrier $195 million per year, but the attendants have maintained that the airline does not need cuts that deep.

The Star Tribune also reported that last year the attendants were blocked from striking after U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero, based in New York, issued a strike injunction that Northwest requested. The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) then appealed Judge Marrero's ruling, and both sides made their arguments in the case before the Appeals Court in late November. Today the Appeals Court affirmed Marrero's decision to grant Northwest an injunction to block a strike.

Kare 11 posted a similar, but shorter story about the injunction on their website today. They reported that all three judges on the appeals panel agreed with the result, although Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote a separate opinion.

Kare 11 also reported there's another way flight attendants could still win the right to strike. They have asked to be released from mediated talks with Northwest. They reported that a release by the National Mediation Board would start a potential strike process under airline labor law, outside of the bankruptcy issues at the heart of the case decided Thursday


March 28, 2007

Dog bite victim in critical condition

A Minneapolis woman who was attacked by two dogs Monday has slipped into critical condition.

Kare 11 posted on a story about the incident on their website today. They reported that animal control authorities call it one of the worst dog bite cases in years.

They attack happened Monday night at a house in northeast Minneapolis. Thirty-seven-year-old Paula Ybarra stopped by her neighbor's house and was attacked by the nieghbor's dogs minutes after she arrived. The dogs bit Ybarra in her neck and shoulder. When paramedics arrived, Ybarra wasn't breathing. She was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center.

The Star Tribune also posted a story about the attack on their website today. Theirs was much more desciptive (almost too descriptive) than the one posted Kare 11. The Star Tribune began their story with an account of the attack and how Ybarra, minutes after being bitten, "was starting to convulse, her eyes flickering from side to side."

The Star Tribune reported that the neighbor's dogs were an 150-plus pound American bulldog named Bobo and a pit bull named Merlin. Kare 11 reported that the bulldog weighed 160 pounds and that the pit bull weighed 60. Both stories mentioned that the dogs are scheduled to be destroyed today.