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Analysis: computer-assisted reporting

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By opening an office in Luxembourg, Amazon avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes to European countries, according to a story by Reuters.

Reuters examined the accounts of 25 Amazon units and found that they avoided paying taxes in the U.S.

The reporter used Amazon's accounting records for this story. He chronologically told the story of Amazon's European holdings, explaining how they set up a business holding in Luxembourg to avoid paying taxes.

To produce this story, the reporter needed a thorough understanding of the history of Amazon's European business. He didn't need to use a lot of computer skills, but he needed to present this complex story in an easy-to-understand way.

There were no interactive graphics to supplement the story, although a timeline of Amazon's European business would have been useful.

Analysis: reporting on government

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With the 'fiscal cliff' approaching, both the White House and Republican congressional leaders are trying to avert the dramatic cuts in spending and increases in tax rates set to take hold Jan. 1, according to the New York Times.

But as the author of this story explained, neither side agrees on how to do it.

The reporter gave the context of both the Democratic and Republican positions on the upcoming 'fiscal cliff', using quotes from each side's appearances on Sunday morning talk programs. She explained how both sides don't seem likely to compromise.

While the newsworthy event was the speeches each side gave on the Sunday morning talk shows, the reporter explained the events in more detail. She gave background information on the 'fiscal cliff' and explained what will happen should the government choose not to act.

She also explained that Democrats and Republicans disagree on a central part of this deal: how to tax rich people.

By explaining these events in the context of the entire issue, the reporter made the 'fiscal cliff' easy to understand for someone with little or no knowledge of this situation.

Analysis: becoming a shaman in Hmong culture

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A student in the high school journalism program Three Sixty wrote this story about a preteen in line to become a shaman, or a 'soul doctor'. According to the story, there are about 1,000 shamans in Minnesota.

The author explains the details of becoming a shaman. She provides information about how important shamans are in the Hmong community.

This story moved beyond a stereotypical portrayal of Hmong culture, providing a substantive and detailed picture of a seldom-discussed topic. It explained the history of shamans. For example, thousands of years ago when the Laotian people didn't have doctors, shamans were the healers.

The author also explained many of the rituals that shamans perform. For example, a shaman puts a cloth over his face before going into the spiritual world. Also, shamans traditionally perform animal sacrifices when someone's soul is lost.

The reporter talked to a representative of the Hmong Cultural Center and a preteen shaman for this story. The shaman in training provided anecdotal information that made the story feel even more real.

Analysis: numbers

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The Star Tribune published a story Sunday about the possibility of a spike in tax rates starting in 2013. The story used numbers to explain how long congress has to solve the problem, how large the problem is, and how many people it could affect.

The numbers are not overwhelming because the reporter does a good job contextualizing them. He clearly explains how a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts would affect the U.S. economy. He highlights how the 'fiscal cliff' could result in two million jobs lost.

The reporter did use math to crunch the numbers. For example, he counted the number of days left until the tax hike goes into affect. This number, 50, added a sense of importance to this story.

He also used the numbers his sources presented. He wrote about the math of "Congressional budget experts", which gives the most important point of his story: that two million jobs could be lost.

The reporter used numbers to add to the depth and scope of his story. The numbers gave the story a sense of urgency and explained how devistating a tax hike could be.

Analysis: obituary

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Phyllis Thornley, who worked as a librarian and administrator in the Minneapolis Public Schools for nearly three decades, died last month, according to the Star Tribune. On Oct. 29, a Star Tribune reporter wrote an obituary on Thornley.

The reporter interviewed people close to Thornley, including a friend, one of her sons and her niece. The three sources illustrated the theme of Thornley's life: that she loved books and reading.

The reporter used more of a feature-style lead. He opened the piece with an anecdote from Thornley's friend, who said she was impressed with Thornley's collection of books.

While Thornley was by no means a news maker, she seemed to be a well-respected figure in her community. She was a leader in many educational initiatives in Minnesota. Her death is notable to those in the field of education and library science.

The reporter listed Thornley's many achievements, but the piece was not a resume. The article was based around one central theme- that Thornley loved books- and all of the information supplied supported this central theme. The biographical information, such as the names of her family members, didn't come until the last paragraph.

Analysis: multimedia

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The Star Tribune and Los Angeles Times both use a variety of multimedia, include video, graphics, photo slide shows and user polls.

For example, the main story Sunday on was about a community health clinic. The package featured a video story, a user poll, photos of the clinic, and a graphic showing the use of community health centers in Los Angeles. featured a story Sunday about the test scores of white students in Minneapolis Public Schools. In addition to the story, the Star Tribune ran a graphic about test scores in Minneapolis. The graphic allowed users to see how Minneapolis students of all races compare to the rest of the state.

On both websites, the writing for these multimedia options is tight and focused. It gives concrete facts and explains the visuals on the screen.

In the Minneapolis Public Schools story, for example, the writing on the interactive graphic explains the data. Below the graphics, there is a summary statement that explains the point of the graphics.

Similarly, in the health clinic story, the Los Angeles Times has about the voices of the health clinic. The video gives a few facts about the state of health care in Los Angeles, helping explain why this is such a big issue.

Analysis: The Sixth District congressional race

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The Star Tribune ran a story Sunday showing that Republican Michele Bachmann holds a slight lead over democratic challenger Jim Graves.

The writer first presented the results of the poll, which said that Bachmann is favored by 51 percent of likely voters while Graves is favored by 45 percent. The writer then gave the details of the poll: it was conducted on Oct. 16 by Pulse Opinion Research and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

After summarizing the results and nature of how the poll was conducted, the author let each candidate respond to the results of the poll. She then explained the how specific demographics view each candidate.

The writer finished the story with a summary of the important issues in the sixth district and how each candidate has handled them.

The reporter's organizational structure was effective. She put the most news-worthy, important information- the results of the poll- at the beginning of the story. She put the more detailed and specific results of the poll in the middle of the story.

The structure was effective because it started with a broad topic- the congressional race- and broke it down along different demographics. Someone with an interest in politics would be curious about his or her demographic will vote in this election.

The author could have organized the story by how voters feel about specific issues, such as the economy. The approach the author took, however, seemed to be the most effective.

Analysis: the marriage crusader

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Frank Schuber is a maestro.

Not in the same sense as Franz Schubert- the famous 19th century Austrian composer. The 21st century Schuber is a master of the campaign against same-sex marriage.

Schuber has orchestrated 30 successful campaigns to get marriage defined as a union of one man and one woman, according to the Star Tribune. This fall, he's looking for win No. 31 in Minnesota.

In August, the Star Tribune ran a feature story on Schuber. The story used seven sources, including Schuber, his colleagues and his adversaries.

The Star Tribune told Schuber's story in a chronological fashion, incorporating the sources as they pertained to Schuber's life. Most of the information in the story came from Schuber and the other sources, though some came from observation by the reporter.

The reporter, for example, incorporated direct observation that he must have gleaned during his interview with Schuber. He noted Schuber's posture as he works, where he interviewed Schuber, what he was drinking, and his side comments.

The reporter set up the attributions through effective transitions. He often used a stand-alone sentence to introduce another character before giving a quote.

This approach is effective. It gives the reader a clear idea of who the new source is and shows the breadth of Schuber's character.

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