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January 31, 2007

Clemens Debates Success of Retirement

Roger Clemens has yet to make a decision about his pitching future this season but with spring training looming just over two weeks away a decision could be made soon.

The story printed in The Houston Chronicle detailing the cities favorite baseball son was one of mystery and intrigue. The story, by Associated Press baseball writer Ronald Blum, had a very interesting problem to deal with. While baseball fans across the country are wondering where “The Rocket� might land there wasn’t a definitive answer given by Clemens. With an audience awaiting the word, it is Blum’s goal to be there if Clemens makes a decision. The difficulty in this story was whether there was enough information to generate interest from the baseball audience despite the lack of a decision by Clemens. In this type of situation Blum worked hard to get as many quotes to create some idea of what Clemens might be leaning toward.

Roger Clemens talked about his plight and laughed. "I'm failing at retirement," he said. "Let's just face it. I'm failing miserably at it."

Blum thought that without a decision to drive the story that the quotes from the interview were the most important part of the story. Blum actually opened the story with the section listed above. This is one of the rare times that I think a quote is acceptable in a lead, because it is the quote here that will drive the story.

Earlier in the week the Associated Press wrote a story that was published in The Dallas Morning News that had essentially the same thing to say. This story, however, had a different approach regarding the quotes. This story, despite its length, details the reasons that Clemens might return and what teams he might return to. This story was a quick interest story meant to create interest. This story does so through the quotes.

Overall, both stories were acceptable and did a very good job at what they were intended to do, which was to create interest and intrigue. I felt that the length of the Blum story made me feel more aware of Clemens’ situation and made me feel like I learned more from the story than from The Dallas Morning News version.

Both of these stories relied heavily on quotes to drive the interest of the story. In both cases quotes were used to lead paragraphs whenever possible. When the situation did not allow the quote to lead the paragraph it was because it was the lead or the subject’s first introduction to the story. Both stories used quotes in an appropriate way, always using said. Even when another word might have been used in literature, said was still kept in these stories which made them both informative and entertaining to read.

Skin Virus Pins Wrestlers

An outbreak of skin herpes forced the Minnesota State High School League suspended all wrestling programs in the state on Tuesday.

This story presents an interesting conundrum. The story as printed in The Pioneer Press, by Tim Leighton, brings to the forefront the issue of telling a story without causing mass panic. For the most part this required Leighton to make extensive efforts to interview and quote coaches and players that had different viewpoints. By doing so Leighton would be able to report the story with enough credible information from coaches and players that wouldn’t stir the readership in to a mass panic.

"With so many people not knowing, it's important to let the shutdown period take its course," Anderson said. "Provided everybody does what's required with the treatment and medication, there should be no further problems."

Leighton makes sure to quote Dr. B.J. Anderson (above), a national skin condition expert, as early in the story as possible to make sure that the readership knows that the reason for the shutdown is valid and that the best interest of the people involved was addressed.

An article in The Star Tribune, by John Millea, took a different approach to the wrestling ban story. Millea elected to begin his story with a preface of how the skin virus is transmitted, how it can be treated, and where it is most likely to occur. After this section Millea proceeds to talk about how the MSHSL wants to stop any outbreaks before the state competition in February. Finally in the third section, Millea addresses the coach and player reactions to the measure. Millea elects to delay the relief part of the story until the very end. Without knowing about the virus the reader would gauge that this is a very serious event that should shutdown the sport for an indefinite period. It’s the coaches’ and players’ assurances that make the reader feel that this measure will be appropriate.

There are very different styles between the two stories; however, the Leighton story did the best job of gaining insightful and meaningful quotes that gave the reader assurances that this shutdown would be enough to ensure the wrestlers’ safety. The Leighton story was also much easier and nicer to read because of his appropriate use of quotes.

Whenever possible both writers used quotes to begin a paragraph. There were very rarely any quotes that were prefaced with a description of the person giving the quote. Both writers also made use of paraphrasing to make longer quotes more digestible. In the Millea story there is one very lengthy quote from a representative of the MSHSL that is a little difficult to dissect so some paraphrasing could have been useful to the reader. Overall, quote usage made these stories easy and interesting to read.

January 29, 2007

Timberwolves Eclipse Suns and End Win Streak

The Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Phoenix Suns in Minneapolis on Monday ending the NBA’s longest winning streak this season at 17.

The story posted by The Star Tribune, by Kent Youngblood, had a very interesting challenge to it. In a story of this type it may become difficult to gain insightful quotes from players and coaches of a .500 team after beating the best team in the NBA. Well, the apparent solution for Youngblood was to simply not quote anyone directly. This story was simply a narrative of the game and its ramifications. This fact was made all the more interesting in the fact that The Star Tribune wasn’t the only news media outlet to pick up the story by Youngblood. The San Jose Mercury News also posted the story by The Star Tribune writer, Youngblood. For a story with no attribution to anyone other than the author to be picked up by a newspaper half way across the country is extremely odd.

ESPN.com posted an article from the Associated Press to cover the event. The Dallas Morning News also picked up a very similar article from the Associated Press; however, there were no quotes or attributions in The Dallas Morning News article. It didn’t take long for the ESPN.com article to get to a quote with direct attribution.

"People who say he can't carry the load, take a look at this game film," new Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman said.

The ESPN.com article made quotation a very high priority and made sure that attribution went after the quote whenever possible. However, in some cases of first reference the attribution was put in the middle of the quote.

"It's just about being a presence," Garnett said. "It's about making them have to deal with me. I will continue to take that approach."

It only took four paragraphs to get a quote out of the ESPN.com article where as the other two articles didn’t ever quote a source. Would it have been that much to ask for the writer to ask the coach or any of the players simply what they thought of the win or loss (depending on who you ask)?

It was simply unbelievable to think that two different versions of a story could go the entire length of the story without one quote or anything resembling a quote. On that basis I must say that the ESPN.com article was my preference by default. Quotes should be used to liven up a story and in this case the Youngblood story and The Dallas Morning News story were extremely lifeless. Quotes can also be used to elaborate on opinions or reactions and neither of these stories did that. Therefore, the ESPN.com article from the Associated Press was the most successful of all of the articles.

Palistinian Suicide Bomber Kills 3 in Israel

A Palestinian suicide bomber kills three Israelis in a bakery in Israel, the first suicide attack in Israel in nine months.

The article in The New York Times, by Greg Myre, deals with a lot of difficult issues. First and foremost is the difficulty in obtaining reliable information from all parties involved in the event. However, in some cases governments can be operating under their own secret agendas and may not be forthcoming with information to journalists. In most cases the governments involved can prove rather helpful but terrorist organizations like Hamas and The Islamic Jihad can prove unreliable and extremely biased. Myre does as much as he can to portrait all sides of the story and to gain relevant and reliable information from as many different sources as possible.

In a story printed in The Washington Post, an article by Ariel Schalit, there is a very different method to the story. In this version Schalit elects to wait as long as possible to detail and quote the terrorist organizations that were taking responsibility and praising the attack. Schalit makes a concerted effort to describe the incident and the reaction of the town before getting into the political ramifications of the attack. Schalit also quotes witnesses before anyone else in the story as a way of maintaining focus on the people involved in the incident as much as possible.


"It was awful _ there was smoke, pieces of flesh all over the place," said Benny Mazgini, a 45-year-old witness.

In a story in The Star Tribune, by Revital Levy-Stein, the story utilizes a much different approach. Levy-Stein elects to paraphrase a quote by the Israeli police as the very first part of the first graph.

A Palestinian suicide bomber attacked a bakery in this southern Israeli resort town today, killing three other people, police said. It was the first suicide bombing in Israel in nine months and the first ever to hit Eilat, Israel's southernmost city.

Following the lead Levy-Stein instantly begins to detail the terrorist organizations that were claiming responsibility. There was extremely limited witness reaction to the event and it occurred for the first time more than a fourth of the way through the story. So the emphasis in the Levy-Stein version was very much on the political ramifications of the action and what was going to happen politically.

All of these stories did a very good job at conveying the issues at heart in this event. However, I felt that the Myre story had a much more appropriate organization to the story. Without neglecting the witnesses Myre was also able to address the political ramifications of the event.

All of the stories did essentially the same thing with regards to the quotations and attributions in their stories. In all of the stories quotes are only used within a paragraph when it is the first reference to the source. Other than that the stories all use quotes to begin paragraphs and generally used the subject prior to “said� in the quote. In very limited terms some of the stories, mainly the Levy-Stein and Schalit stories, used another word other than said in a quote; however, it was very limited in use.

Barbaro Euthanized

Former Kentucky Derby winner Barabaro was euthanized Monday following complications from the broken leg suffered in the Preakness Stakes last May.

The major complication presented in the article by Richard Rosenblatt, the Associated Press racing writer was to obtain sufficient information about the euthanization while maintaining proper depth. The story, as published by The Star Tribune, was a breaking story when it was published. On Sunday things looked good for Barbaro and by 10:00 a.m. on Monday he was euthanized. The story developed extremely quickly and Rosenblatt had very little time to gather all the relevant information for the story while still making sure that enough information was presented to make the story substantial. Rosenblatt elected to detail the history of Barbaro since the accident in May in order to create significant interest and adequate back story.

For the most part this story was picked up by several news outlets because of the breaking nature of the news. The Associated Press version by Rosenblatt was picked up by The New York Times, The Miami Herald, and ESPN.com. However, The Philadelphia Daily News decided to run their own version of the story. This version, by Dick Jerardi, was much more limited with regards to the time scope of the story. Jerardi’s story only details the Barbaro story from about the last three days where the Rosenblatt story goes back months. Both stories did, however, use quotes very extensively for the emotional reaction of the story. Both stories used the quotes to get at the direct feelings of Barbaro’s owner Roy Jackson.

Personally, I felt that the Jerardi version was much more appropriate for the event. In this case the news was that the 3-year-old bay colt was euthanized, not that he was trying to recover from an injury that most horses don’t recover from. I felt that the Rosenblatt story was too much about the distant past where as the Jerardi story detailed only the relevant past of the last few days leading up to the euthanization.

Both stories used quotes by Roy Jackson almost extensively. They both used quotes to lead a paragraph in most cases but Rosenblatt made sure that the quote always ended in, “someone said.� From Rosenblatt story:

"I would say thank you for everything, and all your thoughts and prayers over the last eight months or so," Jackson said to Barbaro's fans.

The Jerardi story was much more lax in its presentation of quotes. Jerardi often used first and second names after the first reference and also used context to lead into a quote. From Jerardi story:

Jackson was trying to hold his emotions in when talking about it. When asked how his wife was doing, he said: "I think the one it's been the hardest on is Dean Richardson."

For this reason I feel that the Rosenblatt story was easier to read due to the uniform nature of the quotes. The Jerardi story only managed to look sloppy when you began to read all of the quotes.

January 25, 2007

NFL Gets Tough on Steroids

Steroid testing in the NFL will now come with harsher punishments for a failed test after the National Football League and its players union agreed to new terms on Wednesday.

The story broke late Wednesday night following the meeting between NFL officials and union representatives. The New York Times published an article, by Judy Battista, detailing the extent of the new testing policy. The challenge for this story was to find a way to make the story worthwhile despite the fact that no players have been hit with the stiffer punishment yet. This is very much a preliminary story and therefore it is more difficult to find really meaningful information without having a specific event, a player suspension, to point to. Battista elects to detail the past punishments for players who violated the previous steroid policy. She details the actions that would change the situation of San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman. Battista describes how things would change if Merriman were to have failed the steroid test under the new agreement.

Gene Upshaw, the executive director of the National Football League Players Association, said in an interview that as soon as next season, players who tested positive could also be barred from consideration for postseason awards. Such recognition became an issue during the regular season that ended last month when Shawne Merriman, a San Diego Chargers linebacker, was suspended for four games after a positive steroids test, but was named to the Pro Bowl.

Battista elects to delay the specifics of the new agreement until later in the story so that she might be able to interest the reader by illustrating how a specific situation might have changed as a result of the new agreement. Battista uses an anecdotal type of story to hold the readers interest until she decides to address the exact stipulations of the agreement.

Several other organizations opted to run the same story, written by the Associated Press. ESPN.com, The Star Tribune, and The Pioneer Press all ran the same article. However, this story also elected to delay the really news lead into the body of the story and elected to print a rather descriptive lead instead.

The NFL is going deeper into the wallets of players who get caught using steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.
After four months of sometimes-intense negotiations, the league and union announced Wednesday more extensive testing for performance-enhancing drugs and the addition of the blood-boosting substance EPO to its list of banned substances.

This specific lead forces the reader to wait through the opening paragraph before the reader actually gets the hard news of the story. However, in this case the headline and sub-headline do a very good job describing what the story will be about.

The USA Today elected to run its own story with a different style. The article, written by Skip Wood, presented the hard news part of the story in the very first paragraph. In the Wood story the reader knows exactly what the story is about within the first 10 words. This hard news style gives the Wood story a unique feel when compared to the story that was run and copied in the three other news media outlets.

Personally, I felt that the Wood story was very successful with the lead and using the lead to get as much information out as quickly as possible. However, I thought that the lead in the Battista story was sufficient enough to get me to read on in the story. When reading on I felt that the Battista story did a better job elaborating on the key points of the story. I found the Battista story more compelling and interesting to read as compared to the Wood story. So, with regards to leads only I preferred the way that Wood addressed the lead but much preferred the entire piece by Battista.

January 24, 2007

Twins Sign Veteran Ortiz

The Minnesota Twins made the biggest roster move of this off-season by finalizing a $3.1 million deal the veteran pitcher Ramon Ortiz on Monday.

The biggest challenge with a story like this is how can you get the reader to continue reading if they aren’t a big sports fan or Twins fan. This article from the Star Tribune, by La Velle E. Neal III, does only what is necessary for the article to get the point across in the lead. It is a very simple and to the point lead. There is very little wasted space or room for excess fluff.

The Twins finalized a one-year deal with righthander Ramon Ortiz worth $3.1 million on Monday.

Neal takes the stance that the lead should be simply as informative as possible and doesn’t need to be full of flowery language in order to get the reader to continue reading. Neal shows that he believes a straight news lead can work in a sports story.

In the article published by the Pioneer Press, written by Gordon Wittenmyer, the lead is much more flowery and fluffy. The reader doesn’t really gain any insight about the purpose of the story until the third paragraph and even then the topic is very convoluted.

On the same day ESPN.com ran a story on its baseball home page making a case for the Twins' Terry Ryan as the best general manager in baseball, Ryan's office announced the completion of the kind of yeah-whatever deal that evokes criticism in other markets.
If it registers a blip at all on the public attention meter.
But the $3.1 million, one-year deal for Ramon Ortiz, a once-bright pitching prospect whose best pitch in recent years has been the gopher ball, represents an impact free-agent signing for the Twins this winter.

This story talks about the success of Terry Ryan, Twins general manager, as written in an ESPN.com article. It also goes on to detail the signing of Ortiz, while still yet discussing the current and future state of the Twins pitching rotation. Wittenmyer’s article is far broader and this scope does not help the article progress to any sort of conclusion because the reader never gets a sense of how the lead is important to the overall story.

As an avid Twins fan, I find an informative lead, like the one used in Neal’s story, quite sufficient to gain my attention and convince me to read more. While I will read the Wittenmyer story I found myself questioning what I actually got out of the story at the end. I felt like the lead in both stories made the story. I felt like Neal’s lead was more forthcoming and his lead was rewarded by my desire to read the rest of the story. Neal’s choice of lead shows that even for a sports story a straight news lead can still be used effectively. By informing me of what happened, who was involved, when it happened, and where it happened I was intrigued enough to read on. That is the most important function of the lead, even in a story that might otherwise appear rather bland, even to an avid baseball fan.

Americans Executed in Iraq

Four Americans were shot in the back of the head, execution style, in Iraq on Tuesday following a helicopter crash that claimed the life of one more American, officials said Wednesday.

The biggest challenge of this story written for the Associated Press and posted by the Star Tribune, written by Steven R. Hurst, Barry Schweid, and Pauline Jelinek, was getting sources to divulge enough information that would make a story worthwhile. In this case, some of the facts have not been released to the public as yet and many of the potential sources were unable to fully elaborate because of that fact. This event was obviously handled with the utmost concern by the U.S. government to be positively sure before they say the Americans were killed by execution. In this case, many of the sources had to be quoted with out any attribution because of the volatile nature of this type of story.

The New York Times ran the exact same version of the story as the Star Tribune. However, The New York Times also elected to print a different version that was less forthcoming with accusations of execution in an article by Marc Santora and James Glanz. This article was more easily found than the article by Hurst, Schweid, and Jelinek. The Hurst, Schweid, and Jelinek article had a much more controversial edge to it. This story made a much better effort to gain information regarding the circumstances of the deaths and was not afraid to publish facts that may not have been as verifiable as a journalist might want.

The San Jose Mercury News had a much different type of story regarding the same incident. The Mercury News story, by Don Thompson of the Associated Press, buried the information regarding how the four Americans were killed and instead elected to focus on the fact that one of the Americans, Art Laguna, was a reserve Placer County sheriff’s deputy, from the suburbs of Sacramento. The lead of this story was much more related to who than it was to how as in the previous articles. In the previous articles the information of how the Americans were killed was placed in the lead; here it was delayed to the eighth paragraph.

Personally, I found two of the stories very effective. I really liked the tribute story that was made in the Mercury News commemorating the life of Laguna. However, I also liked the story as run by the Star Tribune because I felt that the main news worthy portion of the story was that four Americans were likely executed. I didn’t like the idea of neglecting the issue of how the Americans died as reported in the story by Santora and Glanz. The lead of the story from the Star Tribune, I felt, was the most helpful and informative. This lead told the reader who was involved, where the event happened, what happened, and when the event happened while also informing the reader as to how the people involved in the story were likely killed. I felt like this lead did a very good job at incorporating the most amount of information into the lead.

January 23, 2007

Passports Now Mandatory For Border Crossing

Beginning Tuesday international travelers returning from Canada, Mexico, or countries in the Caribbean will be need passports in order to pass through customs upon return to the United States.

The lead of this story is very tricky in that it is difficult to get an average reader interested in a story about passport requirements. In this story, reported by the Associated Press and posted by the Star Tribune, the reporter, Chris Welsch, elected to delay the real lead of the story into the second paragraph. Welsch elected to describe what life might be like if you were in a country like Mexico in the first paragraph instead as an effort to get the reader to imagine what it would be like if you neglected your passport. It is the second paragraph that really gives the point of the story with regards to the who (international travelers to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean), when (Tuesday), where (the United States), and what (will need passports to re-enter the United States). The why question, isn’t really involved in the lead but it is almost implied that the government has instituted new the new rules requiring passports.

A different version, also done by the Associated Press, was posted by the Pioneer Press. This story, written by Giovanna Dell’Orto, had a lead that was placed in the very opening paragraph and was much more specific and to the point. Not only did this lead get to all of the major questions of the article (who, what, and when), it also gave a very brief and vague explanation of why. The point of this story was that there were very few problems that were encountered because of the new passport rule which allows the reader increased understanding of the issue being reported.

A new rule requiring U.S. airline passengers to show a passport upon their return from Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean took effect Tuesday, with few reports of stranded travelers.

I found that both stories served different purposes in their intents, however, I felt like the Dell’Orto story had a more appropriate lead because it was placed as the very beginning of the story. While the Welsch story was acceptable, I felt that I was being treated childishly by the way that Welsch decided to handle the lead. I felt that Dell’Orto’s choice of lead placement was simply more fitting and I appreciated the advanced knowledge of what the topic and point of the story was. The lead in both of these stories, despite occuring in different places within the story, serve to inform the reader of the most vital information regarding the story in an effort to interest the reader and get the reader to read about the less major details of the story. Both leads occur in the very early portions of the story, however, Dell'Orto's version is the one that placed the direct lead in the very opening paragraph.

Casey Out As Wolves Head Man

After only a year and a half the Dwane Casey era is over in Minnesota. Casey was fired Tuesday as the Timberwolves head coach. Assistant coach Randy Wittman will step in as he did in 2005 following the mid-season departure of Flip Saunders.

The Associated Press reported, as posted on StarTribune.com, that Casey was fired due to mediocre performance by the team. The Associated Press also reported that Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor wasn't happy with the team's performance and wants to see the Timberwolves return to the form that made the Western Conference finalists in 2004. With Casey's departure, Saunders will remain the only coach in the 18 year history of the franchise to last more than two years as head coach, reported the Associated Press.

I feel that the biggest challenge of this article was balancing all of the different viewpoints while maintaining appropriate length. This story has many different pieces to it but the reporter, Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press, limits the quotes to those made by Kevin McHale. Krawczynski uses a lot of information obtained from other people but only ever quotes McHale. The apparent solution to the number of viewpoints displayed in a story of this nature is to use one point of view to gain insight on all the rest, at least in Krawczynski's eyes.

While StarTribune.com picked up the story from the Associated Press they were not the only media outlet to do so. The story was also picked up by ESPN.com on Tuesday. However, ESPN.com had an interesting spin on the story. Rather than simply printing the entirety of the Associated Press story they added their own interpretation in the lead and opening paragraghs.

Casey lasted less than 1½ seasons in Minnesota in his first head coaching job, unable to solve the Timberwolves' inconsistencies and put them back into the thick of the competitive Western Conference.
"I've been in basketball 29 years, and this is going to be my first time out of basketball," Casey told ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan. "But you understand what you're getting into when you enter this business."
ESPN's Ric Bucher first reported the firing earlier Tuesday.
"I'm not bitter," Casey told Sheridan. "It's a situation where today we're in the playoffs. I'm proud that I've given them a lot of hard days' work and never shortchanged them."

The ESPN.com version of the story covered reactions by Casey himself rather than allowing McHale to speak to the reactions of Casey. The unique spin and introduction done by the ESPN.com article give much more significant background from Casey himself and gives a fuller interpretation of the story. The full Associated Press version as was posted on StarTribune.com gives only limited quotes from McHale while neglecting the personal interest in the story, Casey. While I understand the reservations that a news organization would have with interviewing a recently fired employee I feel that it would answer the majority of the questions that were raised as I read this story.

There was also an entirely different approach taken by the report that was posted on twincities.com the website for the Pioneer Press. The report detailed that Casey had been fired, elaborated slightly, and then began to detail Randy Wittman, interim coach, and the future of the team. This story focused much more on the future of the team not the reactions to Casey's firing.

In my opinion, while I understand that it is important to look at the future of the team, the Pioneer Press rendition of the story failed to capture the importance of relevance of the event. I feel that when a coach gets fired or retires that the story should be about why he/she did so, not where is the team going now. The Star Tribune rendition, or the direct Associated Press version, I felt lacked significant quotes from other members of the organization. I felt that McHale was too heavily quoted in this version and I preferred the version as posted on ESPN.com where the writer, who I must assume as anonymous, reports quotes by Casey himself. I would have really appreciated a story where Randy Wittman was quoted because he will be the coach of this team for the rest of the season. His opinions and ideas regarding his new situation should be expressed. However, I realize now that this story was leaked as the first notice and that many local media outlets were not able to get the story out by the early evening, yet, the ideal story for me would have analyzed the past while considering the future of the Timberwolves.

I felt like the lead of this story was very straight and to the point in the model of an AP style lead. Now, agreed, the question of why Casey was fired was not addressed in the lead but the major areas were all addressed. After reading the lead the reader would know, who was involved, what happened, and when it happened, and where it happened. From these answers the read would be drawn to read on in the story. This lead functions to provide the most key information and get the interest of the reader.