December 3, 2007

Bus Lisences and C.A.R.

"More than 2,000 minivans and passenger vehicles carry special education and other students in Minnesota every year..." how did Jim Adams and Pam Louwagie at the Star Tribune find that out? One man, Glen Howatt, and a whole lot of number crunching. Howatt, the editor and computer assisted reporting specialist at the Strib wondered, just how many of Minnesota's children ride in these vans and whether they are under the same scrutiny as traditional school bus drivers.

Howatt found something shocking, "the only requirement for their drivers is to have a valid regular driver's license.

In a workshop, Howatt explained that he looked up the licenses that the state issued to these van drivers and he compared them to licenses required by the state to drive a school bus. Scanning through the drivers license database brought the issue to light, how accountable are the people driving our children to school?

November 12, 2007

Diversity Blog

In class we talked about diversity mainly as being an ethnicity. I feel that this is really shortsided. Not that it is wrong, because I believe that this is how most people define diversity: a minority in a group. But, this vision takes so much away from diversity. Diversity, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary is, "a range of different things," not just ethnicity. I believe that diversity is about deviation from a society's norms, and I think that these two articles describe two different kinds of diversity, sexual and religious, which are generally ignored by the public.

The Chicago Tribune produced an advance for a movie entitled "Quearborn & Perversion: An Early History of Lesbian and Gay Chicago." This piece really is a blend of so many styles though, and in a way parallels the ambiguity of being gay in a microcosm of culture that accepts that status, but not feeling safe outside of the few gay neighborhoods of Chicago. This piece describes how the author wanted to use his film as his thesis for film school, but it was too dense of a topic, and too large of a mission to be taken on in just a few years. Film, ten years in the making, is much like the slow revealing of Chicago's gay population, 50 years in the making.,0,873860.story

Another amazing piece, one which touches delicately on so many issues, is the New York Times piece on Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney's stance toward his religious beliefs. Romney is a Mormon, and proud to be. But, many people in the religious right aren't too keen on Mormonism. The Times reported that a Pew Research Center poll discovered that a quarter of Republicans said they were less likely to vote for a candidate if they are Mormon. The Times treads lightly over this subject, reported that Miriam Case, a voter and press conference attendee from New Hampshire said that she finds it unfair that Romney's religious beliefs even come into play in a presidential race.

I think this piece touches on an underlying bigotry towards Mormons. In many Prime time, magazine-esque TV shows, Mormons are shown as some sort of cult, or sect, whose practices are unworldly and bizarre. But, really, isn't eating someone's body and drinking someone's blood a little bizarre?

Also, this article touches on how much religion actually plays a role in our presidential elections, and ties church and state like two people in a three legged race. Separate, but bound together.

November 4, 2007

Using Numbers, Not Confusing Numbers

In the last enry I made about the space walk on the Internaltional Space Station, one article utilized numbers to tell a vivid and captivating story. The other didn't. I wonder why?

The Washington Post, an excellent paper, but one I usually find more dry, used the numbers to tell the facts. The New York Times didn't, but relied instead on quirky facts about he astronaut/doctor's past. I don't know why the writter strayed away from the facts, but I think that the Rob Stein of the Washington Post should be commended for how he used the numbers to tell his story.

Stein starts right off using numbers in his lead by describing the space-walk as seven hours long. And throughout his story, Stein provides interesting descriptive numbers in terms that people can understand. He doesn't just say that the station was in orbit when the walk started, he explains that the ship was 213 miles above the U.S. East coast. He doesn't just mention the robitic arm like the New York Times, he describes how, "...Parazynski anchored his feet to the end of a 50-foot boom from the space shuttle; the boom was grasped in the middle by the station's 58-foot robotic arm. The arm carried him on a slow-motion, 45-minute trip half a football field away to just barely reach the damaged panel.

I love both of the articles, but not until we had this lab and I read the required readings did I really appreciate how numbers can be so hard to use, but so aptly applied to news writing.

October 29, 2007

Blog On Obits

Sometimes, an obituary is almost unreadable because it seems someone as great as the person in print could never die. Arthur Kornburg, a Nobel Prize winning biochemist, and the father of a Nobel Prize winning biochemist, died at the age of 89. It is incredible, that just the facts about this outstanding individual make this obituary come alive, while still laid out in the original NYTimes style.

Obituaries prove the basic points of newsworthiness. The facts are the only thing that atracts a reader, since there is always a basic style. No flair needed. The news is the person, and it works.

October 21, 2007

Advanced advance writing

Really, what does a book published by a world-famous comedian have to do with Milwaukee? Well, the Milwaukee Journal Setinel, and writer Eugene Kane believe that the several shows Bill Cosby played, and the "Call Out Tour" that lead him to give a speech in North Division High School in northern Milwaukee tie him and his story to the city. Even enough to do an advance of his book.

Cosby's book, "Come on, People: On the Path From Victims to Victors," co-written by Harvard psychiatrist Alvin F. Poussain, is a work that embodies his take-responsibilty attitude toward urban black life.

I thought that this was a great article to analyze because it goes against the grain of advances. The author was very involved with Bill Cosby's speech at North Division, and even wrote an argument against his speech in the Journal Sentinel in 2004. The other interesting thing, is that this story has quotes straight from the author of the book, not from the publisher or friends and family of the author. This gives the story a very personal feel.

October 1, 2007

Diversity, cultural speech

Through two stories in the Startriune, I can see how a reporter tried to capture some of the cultural aspects of an individual's speech. Using a quote saying, "You all better clear out because I am gonna come back and shoot this party up," reporter Terry Collins tries to capture the ebonics of a youth Amfrican American culture in print. This is really difficult to do.

Most reporters just tend to paraphrase this kind of material because it is extremely difficult to put in ways that an audience will understand. But Collins does a great job.

Another example of this kind of reporting is Choa Xiong reporting just a day after Vernice Hall's shooting, quoting Steve Hall, her father: "I seen my baby lying on the ground," he said as he hung his head low and tears welled up in his eyes. "Our hearts are just ... I'm angry and I'm trying to be understanding, man."

I wanted to put these two examples in this special entry because I believe that it is possible to be culturally accurate through speech and not be incomplete or improper. Instead, this kind of writing actually increases the personality of he story. I get a deep connection to these people and their hardships.

September 24, 2007


Journalists are afraid of numbers because they can confuse, and can be used to distort. But, when numbers are used properly, they can be a powerful tool for the news media. In the Startribune article about the hunger strike Jef Shelman uses perfectages and dollar amounts to stres exactly what the union's terms are and what the current situation is. If he were to write, "The AFSCME demands a quarter increase per year," the reader would be left in the dark about the big picture. But Shelman was able to compare the union's wants with the price of inflation when he wrote, "The AFSCME has said that if the university bumped the salary increases to 3.25 and 3.5 percent, the strike would likely end.

Through great, specific questions, great reporting can bring monetary amounts onto the page that can really add depth to a story. Everyone may not have the same feelings for the amounts, but these amouts are very definitive, undisputable measurements that every reader can understand.

September 17, 2007


This week I will concentrate on two different leads, one from the BBC and the other from The New York Times, to analyze the difference between an ear-catching broadcast lead and a great, informative print lead.

Both of the stories cover a speech given by Gen. David Patraeus about the continued U.S. presence in Iraq, but the leads stress different perspectives. The BBC lead recognizes the two main points of the speech:30,000 in troop cuts and George Bush's future address. The New York Times' lead instead goes more in-depth-it points out that the coming changes won't really alter the situation in Iraq- and mentions that two U.S. officials have given the speech.

These differences occur because of the medium of the message. The BBC wanted to mention ear-catching phrases like, "President Geroge W. Bush", "30,000" and "White House". The name of the U.S. president, the large number, the most important building in the world, mentioning any of these items can wake a listener from a deep sleep. In the case of the New York Times however, author David Sanger provides the framework needed to create his argument using his many quotes.

Both of these leads do a great job introducing the story. But, since each medium calls for a different approach, one must be curt and powerful, while the other must be intriguing and captivating.