February 9, 2007

Flu Kills

"Flu deaths have parents eyeing the needle" in Thursday's Star Tribune leads with the news that two more children have died in Minnesota, making parents worry and health practictioners provide more flu vaccinations. Children's Hospitals and Clinics will offer free shots in St. Paul, were are told, but we have to read all the way through to the end to find out that there will be nurses dispensing shots at 18 Cub Foods stores as well. If parents are freaked that their kids might get the flu and die, I think they'd appreciate getting that info right up front. Is this hourglass story style, with some pertinent information left for last?

It must be a challenge getting good quotes for a story like this, because nearly everyone you talk to would say the expected "We are deeply saddened by these deaths, and our sympathies go out to the families of these children," and that's exactly what this reporter got, and I think in this case, as the reporter, you would feel compelled to put that in the article, or readers would be writing the ombudsman to complain that the reporter/paper is unsympathetic.

The writer also includes an admonition to treat the flu seriously: "It's easy to think when we've had mild years that influenza is kind of, well, not a big deal," she (the health expert being quoted) said. "And while we don't want to cause panic, we do have to be respectful of the power that this virus has."

From the Strib article we also learn that this year's flu strain is no more dangerous than in other years, that Minnesota counts three of 13 deaths nationwide, and that the vaccine is in good supply. And flu clinics are gearing up for a surge, doubling the number of nurses to handle expected crowds.

Whomever wrote the headline for the Pioneer Press article on the same topic "Two more Minnesota children die of flu" didn't exert much effort coming up with a catchy headline (reporters don't necessarily write the headlines - a friend of mine is a copy editor who writes headlines). But the article is better written, despite some lack of attribution here and there, and doesn't rely on quoted platitudes. It seems like inverted pyramid-style, with some helpful bullets at the end giving information about the flu clinics, symptoms to watch for, prevention tips and what to do if you get the flu. Although this information is also given at the end of the article, this section stands out from the story and is easy to pick out without reading the whole article.

February 2, 2007

Toy Guns That Look Real

Today's StarTribune article, "St. Paul eyes new limits on replica firearms," might be noteworthy for its goofy headline and lack of proper attribution. In fact, I had to read some of the sentences twice to make sure I got the gist. The first sentence makes a claim that appears to be the opinion of the writers (Medcalf and Powell):

They look so much like the real thing that they are sometimes used in violent crimes, and have even fooled police officers. And the replica firearms worry St. Paul city officials and authorities, who want to stop people from carrying them in public places.

And the second paragraph isn't much clearer, quoting either an ordinance that will be proposed, or the St. Paul Council member who will propose it:

So City Council Member Lee Helgen will propose an amendment next week to broaden a city ordinance that would prohibit the "possession of soft air guns in public places." The nonlethal guns -- replica weapons that fire small plastic pellets and are often used in simulated war games -- are sometimes manufactured or used to imitate lethal ones.

Is it okay to start a sentence with the word "so"? It seems amaturish and clumsy to me. A couple other paragraphs also seem to push acceptable attribution boundaries, unless I understood the lesson wrong, particularly paragraph 10:

Minnesota law enforcers have long worried about such weapons, whether it is teenagers carrying them or criminals using them to avoid more serious gun charges if caught. Either way, it can force police to shoot what they believe is an armed suspect.

Here it also seems like we're getting the opinion of the reporters rather than an indirect quote from an expert on the subject. Did they feel the need to spice up the story? Later in the article, however, they do offer some direct quotes.

The headline for the Pioneer Press article on the same topic, "If it looks like a gun, St. Paul wants it gone," has a catchy first sentence, "They give cops nightmares — and now St. Paul is considering a ban on brandishing realistic toy guns in public."

The second sentence spells out the "what," "A draft law would allow people to display toy guns only if they are white or a bright color such as yellow, orange or pink. Imitation toy Berettas would be banned, but Super Soakers would be OK." And is that last bit about the water pistols and attempt at humor?

Anyway, there are some good examples of proper attribution Journ 3101 style, in this article, mostly using direct or indirect quotes from people working on the law, such as this direct quote:

"I think we will really be leading the nation in how we deal with these nonlethal firearms," said Council Member Lee Helgen, who is sponsoring the measure. "We have to treat them with the exact same care you would any other firearm. … You can't tell the difference between a real weapon and these toy handguns."

However, that ellipsis doesn't look right. Am I alone in thinking these articles don't seem like they were written by professionals?

January 25, 2007

Puppy Killer

Last summer a guy in St. Paul brutally killed a litter of pit bulls during what was reported as a domestic argument. I remember hearing about this a while back and wondering what kind of person could bring themselves to hurt not one but 10 puppies? Snap their necks and throw them in a dumpster? There is discrepency between the two articles I read today regarding motivation for the killings. But whatever the real reason, his frustration must have been so unbearable, all reason and compassion was replaced by rage. As far as news goes, the story makes for good, if lurid, headlines.

I found articles in both the Strib and PPress. The headlines were high in shock value, luring the reader, both with the name "puppy killer." The leads of each varied in their graphic description of the killling.

The first sentence of the Strib article is gruesome, and includes the fact that the puppy killer won't get to have pets for the rest of his life (although how that will be enforced is a question one could ask): "A St. Paul man charged with snapping the necks of 10 puppies last summer could become the first Minnesotan ever banned from pet ownership for life."

The PPress article seems less graphic, maybe it's the difference between the phrase "snapping the necks" and the word "killed": "A man admitted in court Wednesday that he killed 10 puppies and tossed their bodies into a garbage bin last summer — and agreed in a plea deal never to own a pet again." Also, the PPress article doesn't use the location of the event or the killer's home town in the first sentence, as does the Strib. In fact, they don't mention he was from St. Paul at all, but the reader can assume he lives somewhere in Ramsey country.

The Strib reporter chose to elaborate about the lifetime ban on pets and assume the reader is aware of the other details of the story, while the PPress reporter gave more background information about the crime and perpetrator. The Strib reporter's language overall was more descriptive, or maybe just more colorful, but I feel like the PPress article gave more pertinent information for a reader who had not read any details previous to this article.