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The article, "Cheating our Children: Suspicious school test scores across the nation," uses large data sets to identify schools across the nation that recorded improbable test scores. I was amazed at the amount of data that was used (and the amount of data that was not included in the analysis, such as small schools or schools that suppressed their data).

I would call this sentence the nut graph:

"A tainted and largely unpoliced universe of untrustworthy test results underlies bold changes in education policy, the findings show. The tougher teacher evaluations many states are rolling out, for instance, place more weight than ever on tests."

What awed me, though, was the amount of statistical analysis that led up to this point. It really emphasizes the fact that writing the story is the last bit of work that takes less time than gathering the information.

I have read about linear regression lines in other classes, but have never touched on it in a journalism skills course. The story, though, was produced by three people, two doing the data analysis and one doing the application. I think it would be very relevant for journalists, and for University of Minnesota students in general, to be required to take classes on data analysis. After reading the article that was written from the data, I have set a goal to try and learn data analysis.


The article "Mpls. Man Arrested After 7-hour Standoff ID'd," is a prime example of breaking news being updated online as it happens. When I first viewed this article the title was not the same. The first version I read of the story was at noon. Compared to other articles I read from the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune, it was the first to say that the standoff had been resolved. This early version said that few details were supplied, and that the man's name had not been released. The latest version of the article names the man.

The article, like most breaking news, is in the inverted pyramid structure. The author separates the story into fact blocks, so that as the situation evolves she can easily update the text. She sandwiches an audio file between the text of the story; it is of a police sergeant briefing reporters on what happened.

It is interesting how the story developed and became more detailed. The name of the man arrested for the standoff was never said in the audio file; the sergeant referred to the man as: the man inside house and the individual. The sergeant never confirmed whether shots were fired, though he said it is believed shots were fired.

The article "Three killed, five injured in I-94 car crash in north Minneapolis," by the Star Tribune, is exemplary inverted pyramid structure. The news is breaking news; it is reporting simply what happened and the condition of those who were involved. The authors described the crash in a very direct way, not adding any language above what is needed to purvey the facts.

The story reports the time of the crash, then sticks to a less definitive timeline using indicators like late Sunday. The passengers of the van that rolled over multiple times were described as part of the Twin Cities Nigerian Community, which identifies who was in the vehicle without being too discriminatory. The Pioneer Press wrote a story on the same crash and did not identify the passengers.

By the third paragraph the authors are telling the whereabouts of those injured in the crash -- all passengers of the crowded minivan. They report the statements from the police saying that alcohol and drugs are thought to not have been involved. The Pioneer Press described the crash, but the Star Tribune's article said the cause was not given. I would expect them to publish a more detailed take on the crash in the coming days.

The article "As banks in Cyprus falter, other tax havens step in" describes Cyprus' current state after it received a harsh bailout from the troika, a nickname for the euro crisis's three money lenders: the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Union.

The author, Andrew Higgins, who has been covering Cyprus' bailout since it began, reports the situation using great analogies. In the lede, he calls off-shore tax havens similar to Cyprus, "vultures from competing territories." He likens Cyprus' shrinking banking sector to a "feeding frenzy," and writes, "those now picking at Cyprus' carcass trumpet their ability to keep money beyond the reach of tax authorities."

He then identifies the various off-shore banking sectors such as Luxembourg and the Cayman islands. He compares Cyprus's financial sector, which is eight times their GDP, to Luxembourg's, which is 22 times their GDP. He writes that each loudly insists they're very different than Cyprus.

The final sentence serves as a kicker; it's a quote from Bateman financial, a tax haven in the Cayman islands. The quote says given the inherent pressure the Cypriot banks are under, it might be wise to move your firm to another jurisdiction that offers the stability you currently desire.

The Star Tribune article "Macy's in downtown St. Paul closes Saturday" mixed emotion with news reporting to form a story that purveyed fact, as well as feeling. The article began describing a ransacked Macy's littered with empty shelves, saying "few things look so forlorn." The next paragraph is an exemplar nut graph; it supplies the fine details of Macy's shutdown, and by telling which department stores have filled the building in the past it gives a little history, too.

The author describes Macy's noble demise by keeping the store open for St. Patrick's day whether or not they sell all their inventory. He quotes a statement made by Macy's explaining why the Macy's is one of six nationwide being shutdown. He tells what will happen to the workers St. Paul's Macy's; fifty workers are being transferred to nearby Macy's--out of the 150 who worked at the store.

He paraphrases Chris Coleman, St. Paul mayor, saying he would like the vacant building to become a Class A office building, with first- and second-floor amenities that tie in with downtown's bar and restaurant scene.

The author ends the story with a peculiar fact that serves as a kicker. He states Macy's bakery will never operate again. "The kitchen machine that delighted thousands of diners in Macy's River Room with its puffy pastries sold for $2,000."

The Star Tribune article "St. Paul man pleads guilty to killing, dismembering wife" resembled the martini glass story structure. The article began with the key facts--that the man pleaded guilty--using quotes from the court hearing. The author gave a brief summary of the night of the murder, then supplied more details about the sentencing, which was mandatory life in prison.

The author then said "Johnson [the defendant] gave this account to questioning," which allowed the author to relay the events of the night of the murder chronologically. He used quotes from the court hearing mixed with paraphrasing of Johnson's account to provide a captivating recount of the night.

The author used times in his recount to provide the reader with a concrete grasp of the murder. He relayed what Johnson did as cover-ups to his heinous crime, which ended when he put the tote bags, containing his wife's body parts, in his former in-mates garage who then called the police.

The story ends with details about Johnson's previous jail time; he was sentenced 17 years for aiding and abetting in criminal sexual conduct. He met Manya Johnson shortly after his release.

Analysis: "Flu vaccine left almost all seniors exposed"

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The Star Tribune article "Flu vaccine left almost all seniors exposed for worst strain," described the current flu season, which has infected many seniors. The author began the article with the effectiveness of the vaccine for senior citizens, which was at an astoundingly low 9 percent. He reported health officials do not know why it gave such dismal protection. He compared the vaccine's effectiveness using a quote from a University of Michigan flu expert that said, "a flu vaccine for seniors is considered pretty good if it's in the 30 to 40 percent range." This comparison highlights the discrepancy of this years vaccine in protecting senior citizens.

The author reported that the current percents are less than definitive because they come from preliminary data that is based off 300 elderly people scattered among five states. He also provided a theory that has yet to be proven for why elderly peoples' immune systems are unable to utilize their vaccines.

The author explained that the flu virus mutates at a quicker rate than most viruses, and that is why each year's vaccine is not 100 percent effective. He ended the article stating that next years flu vaccine will be available next summer, and it includes vaccines that protect against four strains, but added "experts say it's not clear whether they will be any more effective."

I found the article very informative, but I was bothered that there was not a concrete answer to why senior citizens were so affected. Statistics and quotes from the CDC provided a lot of credibility.

In the Los Angeles Times article, "Russian meteor: Could there be an early warning system?," the author first addressed the question in the title with an 'it all depends' type of answer, then gave a brief description of what happened in Russia on Friday.

The author defined the factors that decide whether we detect a meteor heading toward earth. She quoted multiple scientist, including one from NASA, and others from prestigious universities.

She referenced the asteroid NASA identified a year before that passed by Earth Friday. She quoted a NASA scientist saying that it was all a coincidence that a different meteor happened to impact Russia the same day.

She assured readers that any big objects heading toward Earth would be spotted years in advance, and quoted a scientist saying there was nothing they knew of yet that would pose such a threat.


The Star Tribune article "Minnesota homes have become hotbed for radioactive gas radon" opened with a Prior Lake man's diagnosis of advanced lung cancer. The author then segwayed to the unawareness most Minnesotans have of the odorless, colorless gas radon. In the article the Star Tribune did their own data analysis that concluded 40 percent of homes in Minnesota when tested for radon are found to be above the safe level. Adding to this statistic the author described why radon plagues Minnesota homes--because of our state's regional geology.

The author continued to intersperse quotes from people affected by radon in their homes. He also quoted a professor from the University of Minnesota who studies radon awareness. The author also gave a little synopses of radon's history in the U.S., which was brought to national attention in the '80s when a worker at a nuclear plant kept setting off sensors, because radon was on him from his house.

The author added steps on how to test your house for radon, and added that the law does not require houses to be tested for radon before they are sold. He gave background information about state radon standards, citing the the Indoor Radon Abatement Act Congress passed in 1988.

The author gave a diverse array of information about radon, which made the article interesting. He also livened the article with statistics and quotes which kept me reading. I knew of radon before this article, but I now know more and am glad I read it.

Analysis: Apartments snapped up as fast as they're built

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In the Star Tribune article: "Apartments snapped up as fast as they're built," the writer begins with a lead that sets the stage for what sounds like a booming rental market. The subheadline reads: "Demographic and economic changes are driving explosive growth in metro rental market," when I read this I expected the article to dig a little deeper on the subject. The author does provide numbers and statistics, but none of them, in my opinion, illustrate demographic or economic change. In the third paragraph he provides a quote from an elated property manger who has 100 percent occupancy. The author then tells of the year before, which added 300 rental units and compares it to this coming year which is expected to add 2,300 rental units.

He provides the specific percent of vacant rental units--2.9 percent--and describes the market's past trajectory and future projections. He plays two tenors against each other: one of property managers happy with the market, and another warning that the new influx of rental units could offset demand.

He adds direct quotes from a woman who before the recession would most likely be in the market for a permanent home, but because of the current situation she and her nascent family have settled on a newly built apartment.

The article covers the rental landscape very well, and the multiple views he provides paint a full picture of the rental market. He ends the article with a quote from the woman whose family has been living in the new apartment. She loves the apartment and the fact that she is not tethered to it for the next 30 years.

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