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Analysis: Diversity

The case study: Sounds and Culture Come Alive During 'Africa Unwrapped'
Read the story in the University of Tampa's online publication: The Minaret Online

      This article reports on an event held by the University of Tampa last Thursday to educate students about Africa. Participants enjoyed Ethiopian food, drumming, dancing and informative lectures.
      The writer talked to students who attended and the president of Diversity Fellowship, one of the group that sponsored the event. Everyone had positive experiences and expanded their knowledge of African culture. This story features the campus event rather than the culture for which it was trying to promote awareness.

     University of Minnesota student Ellen Putzier, 23, works at Anew Dimension Child Enrichment Center, a childcare facility in the Cedar Riverside area of Minneapolis. Most of the children she takes care of there are from East Africa.

     After reading the above article, Putzier commented that the event sounded informative and broad, without stereotypes. She said it is common for the population she works with to be labeled automatically as poor and involved with crime.

    "People from Africa are very cheerful, joyful...they greet you when they see you, they don't leave without saying goodbye," Putzier said. She said, too, that parents from other backgrounds might not engage in conversations or show the same interest in her.

     Putzier explained she has had more positive encounters with African immigrants because of working at the daycare. She said that going to 'Africa Unwrapped' would have been helpful for her to learn more about a people she serves daily.

     "I would have loved to be there," Putzier said of the University of Tampa event.

Analysis: Number use in the news

Case study: Associated Press story- "Women on pace to be majority of union workers"

      This story reports data released on Tuesday by the Center for Economic and Policy Research that shows the number of women in the union work force increasing steadily.

      The reporter uses numbers to show the percentage of women union members and the percent increase over time. These figures are then compared to male representation in unions.

      The story also gives numbers to show an ethnic shift in union membership.

      The reporter then zooms out toe put the numbers in a still wider context, positing that the percentage of union constituents in the overall electorate amounts to significant "political clout."

      The numbers in this story were many, but not overwhelmingly hard to understand. The subject matter itself is dry and dependent on the statistics. Rather than using numbers to enhance a story, this piece was crafted around the numbers.

      It appears the reporter did manipulate the heady math in order to use more accessible percentages, though. Since the numbers all came from one report from CEPR, the article did not need to source the figures throughout. 

Covering news: obituaries

The case study: Qian Xuesen
Obit written by: The New York Times
To read the article, click here.

This obituary covers the death of a Chinese rocket scientist, Qian Xuesen, 98, who was educated in the United States before his deportation in 1955. He held prominent governmental and scholarly positions in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s but is also highly respected as the "Father of China's space program."

The lead of this obituary follows the standard New York Times formula with his name followed by identifying information followed by an announcement of his death and place of death. The next sentence is the typical, short descriptor of his age. Since Qian accomplished such powerful things, the lead about him grabbed me, despite the formula.

Sources actually cited in the obituary are few; they include a 2002 "published reminiscence" by one of Qian's colleagues and China's state media. Many of the facts may have been public knowledge since Qian's activities in the U.S. took place over half a century ago.

The obituary differs from a catalogue of accomplishments because it gives a snapshot of both positive and negative press that Qian received. It talks about what he was known for and contributed to society but also explains controversy that surrounded him.

Analysis: Covering speeches

"Pushing for Energy Legislation, Obama Takes On Critics" (NY Times headline)

The issue: Renewable Energy Policy
The speaker: President Obama
The location: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Link to the news story in the New York Times- Click here
Link to transcript of Obama's speech, as released by the White House- Click here

President Obama's speech at MIT in Boston covered an array of energy-related topics from harnessing wind, water and solar power to nuclear disarmament.

Toward the end of his remarks, Obama berated legislators who oppose or have yet to support a climate change and energy bill introduced to the Senate by John Kerry last month.

The president spoke positively about last January's Recovery Act, saying that it is an investment in clean energy that will produce new jobs and potentially help bring an end to the recession.

The Times reporters who covered this speech decided to focus on the later portion of Obama's speech, latching onto the politics of energy reform.

The writers of the news story followed the lead with a brief and general summary of the issues addressed in the speech.

Immediately after this, the reporters skip to the most sensitive, critical part of the debate- the president's veiled reference to lobbying groups and not-for-profits that are opposing energy reform on the basis that it will hurt the economy.

This news writing decision stands out because in order to craft the story, the reporters must have researched the political climate or drawn on prior knowledge of the context in which Obama delivered his speech. Obama never named names. The New York Times did.

Another conclusion the writers drew was that the legislation Obama indirectly spoke about was in fact a bill introduced recently by John Kerry. Almost the entire article, therefore, hinged on the reporters being informed about related political leaders, issues and legislation.

This kind of current events reporting does work that readers may or may not, but that is crucial to fleshing out an isolated speech. The president is not going to publically call out groups or specifically refer to controversial legislation, but the public needs to know these details.

This is the job of a good reporter, and the Times writers did it well.


Multimedia: how it lends itself to news

Let's examine two local news organizations, KARE 11 and the Star Tribune. The websites for both the television station and the daily paper contain many forms of multimedia.

The Star Tribune not only exhibits photos throughout its webpages, but has a tab on its main toolbar devoted to multimedia. On the drop-down menu are categories such as video, audio, slide shows and podcasts. This is a helpful way to organize online bonuses so that readers can supplement what they may have read in the paper. Slideshow copy does contain hard news but it's hard to focus on the text when a more interesting image is flashing past. The Strib has little text on its main pages, creating hyperlink headlines to take readers to the text of the articles. I think these kinds of multimedia and website organization are visually exciting, but detract from communication of hard news in favor of info-snacking.

KARE 11 sprinkles its multimedia among all of its web pages. Since it is a television channel, it particularly uses video with narration to convey news. It seems like KARE 11 incorporates more news into its multimedia and vice versa, but the news is softer. The home page features recipes, a gameroom, blogs and surveys as well as links to harder news stories. The writing for the multimedia is short and pointed but simple. There isn't room for an in-depth presentation of research or statistics. The medium lends itself to quotes, headlines and punchy sentences.

To visit the Star Tribune website click here.
To visit the KARE 11 website click here.

Structures: the ordering of information in news

The case study: A New York Times story about a Chicago youth's murder

Article link: Click here

      The above news story is a continuation of coverage on a mob beating that resulted in the death of Derrion Albert, 16, an honor roll student on Chicago's South Side.  It does not assume that readers have been following the case. In the lead, the reporter summarizes the news, states current public perception, and gives contextual history. The second graf gives the latest development- a criminal charge. The four subsequent paragraphs then neatly break down and expound on the how, what, why, and who, in that order. The first tells how we know what happened: an amateur cell phone video was taken. The next gives more details about the beating itself. The following explains that a shooting earlier that day preceded the fighting. The fourth profiles the teenagers who have been charged with the murder. Two paragraphs after these give a broader social context- what the community is doing- and a quote to that effect. The final two grafs are expendable information.

      The article's title highlights the new information that four teens have been charged in the case. The story, however, is not about the teenagers nor the "charge."  The real news is still that an innocent boy was the victim of gang rivalry. The inverted pyramid of the story correctly prioritizes the news and orders the information logically. There are other strategies the reporter could have used; for example she could have given all the important facts in the first couple of grafs then jumped into a juicy chronology of the events from poor Derrion waking up in the morning to the convergence of gangs and eventual demise of the honor roll student. I prefer her approach, however, for its taste and sense of social responsibility.   

Analysis: Attribution in a News Story

     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.

News leads- information before embellishment

"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.

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