September 2009 Archives

Four teens charged with murder of Chicago boy

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     A 16-year-old boy, Albert Derrion, was walking Thursday afternoon near his school in Chicago's South Side neighborhood when he accidentally got in the way of two rival groups.

     Four members of the angry, volatile mob targeted Derrion and brutally beat him, causing severe injuries that led to his death hours later, CBS 2 said.

     Other students at Christian Fenger Academy High School are getting frustrated and scared at the violence that has left three dead since the school year began, The New York Times said. 

    The above articles in the Times and CBS websites drew my attention by their use of multimedia.  CBS featured a slide show of the teens charged with murder as well as the victim.  It also cited YouTube as having posted a video of the murder. 

     The Times highlights an NBC report that includes clips from the amateur video captured on a cell phone.  Police were able to use the video to identify the suspects in the killing.

     The NBC report said that such a video of Chicago's darker side is the kind of publicity that the city wants to avoid, especially as it lobbies to host the Olympics.

Anoka-Hennepin board chooses schools to be closed down

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     Anoka-Hennepin school board members decided on Monday to close down six schools in the district, The Star Tribune said.
    
     In a 5-1 vote, the board handpicked five elementary and one middle school to shutter beginning in the 2010-2011 academic year. The board hopes to save $3.1 million a year and recoup budget defecits, The Strib said.

     The district created a Facility Use Task Force several years ago to determine how to respond to large dips in enrollment. Since 2004, the district has lost 2,000 students and stopped using 67 of its classrooms, The Pioneer Press said.

     The one dissenting board member, Scott Wenzell, told The Star Tribune that he withheld support partly because the savings from closing the schools amount to more than what is needed to recover low enrollment costs.

     The article in The Strib put the closings into the context of other districts that have been impacted financially in recent years. It also added details at the end for topics it mentioned in the beginning. Although both papers have sections for comments, many more readers tend to give feedback on The Strib website.

    

    

Call for banks to curtail overdraft fees

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     The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., lawmakers and the public have increased pressure for banks to reform their assessment of overdraft fees, USA Today said.
 
     If banks continue at a steady rate, they will bring in a record $43.6 billion in fees charged to customer's checking accounts, mostly for overdrawing, The Wall Street Journal said.

     The Federal Reserve needs to set the standards for how to determine fees, FDIC Chair Sheila Bair said in an interview with USA Today.

     Some analysts warn that restricting bank's fees will make it more difficult for the economy to recover. Banks have been using money from overdrafts to compensate for loans that have been badly affected by the financial crisis, The Wall Street Journal said.

     The two articles referenced above, one from USA Today and one from The Wall Street Journal, present relatively identical information very differently.  The former focuses on the need for banking reform, citing various officials who support systemic changes. The latter quotes more facts and figures with less editorializing and zero assumptions.

     The Wall Street Journal does add a subjective angle in the last few grafs.  It quotes a VP from a smaller bank whose fees have remained stable through the economic crisis. This struck me as a not-so-subtle hint that consumers can always seek a less mainstream option and save money with a little time and effort. Of course, if consumers kept better tabs on their balances (no pun intended), there would be no overdraft activity on which banks could capitalize.  

    

Analysis: Attribution in a News Story

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     The Star Tribune article about Ron Paul's appearance at the U of M contains many attributions. The first is a fragmentary quote followed by "she said," (referencing Michelle Bachmann) which is inconspicuous next to a quoted exclamation in the same sentence from an unnamed upstart in the crowd. The signs, opinions and applause of the crowd actually get quite a bit of space in the Tribune story.  The story quotes or paraphrases Ron Paul's ideas, mostly out of context. The article came across biased (against Paul), but perhaps it was simply reflecting the biases of the people who attended the town hall meeting. The article talks to several credible sources- it cites an official Bachmann spokeswoman and the president of an organization at the U.  At the end of the article, U of M students who supported and opposed Paul registered quoted opinions. Many of the quotations are set up by a short sentence-long paragraph that acts as a description or qualifier. The quote then immediately starts in the next paragraph with the attribution in the form of so-and-so said. The quotes are easy to follow and lively if not authoritative. Perhaps the abundance of casual quotes from the crowd play to the article's audience: people who attended the meeting, likely.

Ron Paul rounds up a crowd at Northrup

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     Texan Rep. Ron Paul drew a crowd of 2,000 on Friday at Northrup Auditorium at the University of Minnesota. Not a bad turnout for a libertarian.
   
     The basis of this appearance was a town hall meeting with Minn. Rep. Michelle Bachmann to discuss a range of topics from health care to the Federal Reserve, the Pioneer Press said.

    Both Bachmann and Paul voiced their disapproval for federal spending in light of the deficit, pushing for an audit of the Fed that would be the first since its conception in 1913, the Press article said.

    One U of M student, a Paul supporter, expained to The Star Tribune that "both the left and the right hate him equally." Paul is well-known for his unique political stances which include negative criticism of the recent smoking ban and gun control.  

   
     

G-20 world leaders gather to revamp economy

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     Twenty of the world's richest, most influential countries sent leaders to Pittsburgh on Friday to collaborate on an effort to return stability to the global economy.
    
     Nations agreed to present their financial systems for review by other governments and the International Monetary Fund, The New York Times said. The president hopes these accountability measures among peer nations will prevent another financial crisis.
    
     "Because our global economy is now fundamentally interconnected, we need to act together to make sure the recovery creates new jobs and industries while preventing the kind of imbalances and abuses that led us into this crisis," Obama said.
    
     An article in The Washington Post follows a global financial timeline, sorting out for the reader what happened with the crisis, where we are now economically, and how world leaders are preparing nations to cooperate in the near future.

     One of the more controversial aspects of the G-20 agreement that the Times discusses is the call for banks to keep higher reserves of capital as a margin against sudden, unplanned market disruptions. Such a practice would affect nations differently and leaders in Europe disagreed about the specifics, the Times said.

Terrorism threat apprehended in New York

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     Federal investigators have hard evidence: surveillance tapes, laptop records and phone conversations-- not to mention traces of the chemicals used in the 2005 London subway bombings, according to federal court papers filed in New York City last Thursday.
     The main character in this drama is an Afghan man with permanent U.S. residency who happened to train with al-Qaeda in Pakistan in 2008, The Washington Post said.
     That was how Najibullah Zazi learned how to make explosives using acetone and hydrogen peroxide, chemicals he easily purchased at a beauty supply store near Denver last month, The New York Times said.
     The Post points out that such an internal threat has been a long-time concern of intelligence agencies.

     The Times spends the first few grafs of its article giving the unembellished case facts, waiting until graf 12 to reconstruct the compelling storyline leading up to Zazi's Saturday arrest. The rest of the article, however, reads like a crime novel. The Post sprinkles colorful bits of the story throughout its article so it is less organized overall but an interesting read throughout.

Only Pepin Farms has access to U's new apple breed

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                The U of M decided to give exclusive rights to its newest apple breed, the SweeTango, to Pepin Farms Orchard, the state's largest apple grower.

                When the U released its last apple, the Honeycrisp, growers planted it in ground that was not conducive to its thriving.  While this has led to its wider availability, the apple's quality went down and the price has been declining, a University official explained to Minnesota Public Radio.

                The U's move to turn over the reins to Pepin Farms means that independent farmers in Minnesota cannot take part in growing what an official press release calls "a superior apple-eating experience."  

                Since the U's patent on the Honeycrisp expired in November, the school's apple breeding program is counting on funds from Pepin Farms and from royalties on the SweeTango to continue one of three programs of its kind in the country, the Twin Cities Daily Planet said.

                What is the public's response?  An editorial in the Minnesota Daily called the agreement a "monopoly." The owner of a roadside market told the Daily it was "terribly unethical."  

Plea for troops prompts Obama to reevaluate Afghanistan

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     Gen. Stanley A McChrystal's conclusion that success in Afghanistan requires a new surge of troops has thrown Washington into a frenzy of debate.
     Obama has delayed in responding to the general's request, delivering on his campaign promise to carefully evaluate both old and new military strategies in Afghanistan as the war proceeds, the Los Angeles Times said.
     Obama's advisers have suggested pursuing a shift from rebuilding the Afghan nation to escalating concentrated attacks on al-Qaeda, The Washington Post said.
     Frustrated military officials, however, perceive deliberations to be time wasted on a ticking clock.
     The Post report emphasized the political divide on the issue, quoting the public statements of both Republican and Democrat senators. Both papers reconstructed Obama's point of view successfully.  Both stories also happened to use the phrase "grim assessment" in their leads...jargon?
     The format of The Post was a bit easier to follow and I realized it had fewer paragraphs than the LA Times. I decided to do a little math and it turned out The Post averaged 56 words per paragraph compared to the LA Times' 37. The articles were similar lengths overall.  

News leads- information before embellishment

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"Tens of thousands of protesters chanted and carried banners through the heart of Tehran and other Iranian cities on Friday, hijacking a government-organized anti-Israel march and injecting new life into the country's opposition movement." - The New York Times

     In the above paragraph, the writer incorporates sounds, sights and emotions into what could have been a dull, straight news lead. The information is all there: the who- protesters, the what- embarrassing the government, the when- during a government rally, and the where- cities in Iran. The bonuses are a sense of excitement, a glimpse of the event's impact and some helpful fill-ins (Where exactly is Tehran?) The sentence refers to two sets of protests, but successfully distinguishes them by using the word "march" for one and painting a word-picture of the other. The writer also subtly favors the position of the opposition movement, reflecting the current stance of the United States government against Iran. The sentence emphasizes the "what" element of the lead because it is the most complex, demanding a greater degree of clarification.
      A miniature equivalent of the prehistoric predator Tyrannosaurus Rex, recently discovered in China by a team of paleontologists, has altered scientists' understanding of the animal's evolution.
     The T. Rex was five times the lenth and almost 100 times the weight of its predecessor which has been dubbed Raptorex, according to a story in The New York Times. The story explained that the fossil, purchased by collector Henry J. Kriegstein, was handed over to University of Chicago dinasaur expert Paul C. Sereno for research purposes.
     With the discovery of Raptorex, scientists like Sereno are able to reconstruct the history of Tyrannosaurs in a new way. Sereno told The New York Times, "This is an agile, fast-running animal...by adding a lot of weight at the top, something has to give way. What gave way was the forelimb."
     The Washington Post reported that this 9 foot long dinosaur weighed as much as a human. Scientists anticipate an incline in the amount of smaller scale dinosaurs to be unearthed in the near future.
       

U of M plans to improve next game day at TCF Stadium

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     In response to complaints regarding the new stadium, the U of M is making changes intended to improve the experience for fans at the Saturday match.
     The Star Tribune reported that the university is increasing concession staff, reworking the shuttle system and opening doors a half-hour earlier for round two.
     Joel Maturi, the U of M athletic director, told KARE 11, "The things that we did went extremely well. But we had some challenges, and I think we learned from it." Such challenges from the first game included massive traffic jams, backups at the food vendors, difficulty hearing in the stadium and unsolicited noise in surrounding areas.
    The Gophers will be playing the California Golden Bears on Saturday at 11a.m.. To view a media tour of the TCF Stadium, hosted by head coach Tim Brewster, click here.  
     Iran's domestic opposition movement flouted the warnings of religious and military leaders by marching in spite of the president's anti-Israel protest on Friday, known as Quds Day.
     Amidst opposition chants decrying Iranian President Ahmadinejad's controversial election, the president gave a speech in which he called the Holocaust a "lie," provoking a statement of condemnation from President Obama's press secretary, reported The New York Times.
     Barely outnumbered by pro-government supporters, the 100,000 opposition protesters  constituted the largest turnout of the movement in months, said The Washington Post. This was also the first time in months that the three leaders of the opposition joined crowds in Tehran.
     The New York Times explains that Quds Day or Jerusalem Day, the last Friday of Ramadan, is a pretext for the Iranian government to display street support for Palestinian and Lebanese militants as well as register its hostility towards Israel.
     Democrats and Republicans alike want to rework Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus's health care reform proposal before the legislative process continues.
     The proposal requires Americans to purchase health insurance and penalizes those who do not, using federal subsidies to assist those who cannot afford it, The New York Times reported.
     According to The Washington Post, the plan is scheduled to advance to committee debate on Tuesday and address the challenge of how to make mandatory insurance affordable for 30 million uninsured people in America.
     The proposal's main revenue source- an excise tax on insurance companies' more generous policies- concerns lawmakers of both parties for its impact on the middle class. More positively, it appears the plan will create fiscal stability, lowering the federal deficit over time, according to The Washington Post.
     Baucus himself told the New York Times, "Our health care system is simply unsustainable. It's breaking the bank for everyone, from families to businesses to governments." Baucus's proposal is the least expensive of five health care reform measures currently before Congress, costing $774 billion over 10 years.
    

Twice dropped charges equals one fired police officer

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     A Minneapolis police officer cleared of blame in the 2006 shooting of Fong Lee was fired, two weeks after unrelated charges of domestic assault were dropped.
     The Pioneer Press reported that officer Jason Anderson has been on paid leave since June 14. "They said it was for a policy violation for the code of ethics, but they couldn't even tell me what the violation was," Anderson said in a telephone interview with Pioneer Press on Wednesday.
     In May, a federal jury decided that Anderson acted within the law when he shot Fong Lee, 19, eight times during a foot chase, reported the Star Tribune. The story in the Star Tribune provided details of the Fong Lee case but included less about the more recent allegations of assault.
     The Star Tribune used police sources and public information because it was unable to obtain an interview with Anderson. Pioneer Press, however, not only gained access to Anderson, but procured a still image of the Fong Lee chase from a surveillance camera, thanks to the Court files of the U.S. District Court.
    

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