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by Sarah Harper

The New York Daily News published a story Saturday called "Jews vow to fight back as Brooklyn bias crimes spur a Jewish Power movement."

I discussed this story with two University of Minnesota students, Julia and Charlotte. They did not want their last names to be included. They both live in Minneapolis. They're familiar with the cultural group because they are part of it -- Julia and Charlotte are Jewish and are active in the religious groups on campus. Talking to them helped me understand the article from their perspective.

The story does not exploit any stereotypes. Rather, it starts off substantive and stays that way. The writer, Simone Weichselbaum, informs the story by including information about the history of Jewish people in Brooklyn.

Weichselbaum uses observation as a main source, but that doesn't mean that she observes the Jewish people in a judging way. She does not tell a story about who they are, she tells a story about what is happening with them.

Julia, Charlotte and I appreciated that the reporter used quotes to color the story, but we wished she had used even more.

The only problem is in the first paragraph, where Weichselbaum wrote, "The recent hate crimes against Jews across Brooklyn has ignited a movement pushing them to toughen up and learn how to fight back." This sentence presents a problem only to the most careful of eyes, because writing that Jewish people have been pushed to toughen up implies that they weren't tough in the first place.

Besides that small detail, the writer truly is fair to the cultural group.

Analysis: Numbers in a USA Today article

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by Sarah Harper

Steven Reinberg, who wrote the USA Today article "Most smokers want to quit, CDC report finds", used numbers to tell the story.

However, the numbers are overwhelming in this story. Reinberg puts two numbers in the lead. He did not digest numbers for greater reader understanding -- no math was done to crunch the numbers.

Reinberg could have done several things to make this easier for the reader. He could have used less numbers, he could have rounded the numbers instead of using figures like "48.3 percent," and he could have used numbers in terms of their relations to each other.

Reinberg got his numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Not only does he mention this in the headline, he includes a link to the study and informs the reader of which issue the numbers were in.

Analysis: New York Times Obituary of Jimmy Savile

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by Sarah Harper

The New York Times' obituary for TV personality Jimmy Savile follows the tradition of the standard obituary lead. However, the reporter added flavor to the lead's description of Savile, writing that he was "an acclaimed English television host whose dress, hair and verbal flummery made all other comers in a nation renowned for eccentrics look like Puritans."

The lead's description went beyond simplicity, but it maintained the same standard style. It worked because it matched Savile's personality - as a TV host, Savile's personality was the cornerstone of his personal brand.

After the lead, the writer strayed from standard style. The writer described the cause of death in three paragraphs instead of the traditional single paragraph. Again, this served to inject anecdotal evidence of Savile's sense of humor into the obituary.

No paragraph begins in the traditional, "(Full name) was born on (date of birth,)" style, but a section on the chronology of his life follows a section outlining his various claims to fame.

The obit differs from a resume in that the writer injects quotes and anecdotes that are not necessarily related to Savile's work life. Rather than be a rote account of Savile's accomplishments and personal history, this obituary is a colorful character sketch. The result is an obituary that pays tribute to Savile's unique life and personality in an in-depth way.

Analysis: Multimedia

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Note: I accidentally did the speech analysis last week. Here is that entry.

by Sarah Harper

The multimedia options offered by the Minnesota Daily are much more user friendly than those offered by the New York Times. While the New York Times' multimedia section is buried in a monotonous toolbar, the Daily's multimedia section is featured with a large, noticeable tab on the top of the front page.

The Daily features photos, slide shows and videos. The Times features those, in addition to interactive maps and graphics. The type of writing done by the Daily's multimedia department is sparse and strictly descriptive. Especially under photographs and videos, the Daily's multimedia writing is as brief as possible. It offers little detail. In the slide show story, "Atmosphere at TCF Bank Stadium," no slide is accompanied by more than one sentence. Some have no caption. The overall style is clean and simple, with no unnecessary information at all.

The Times' multimedia section is different in that slide shows alone function as comprehensive news stories. Their cutlines include "the whole story" of any issue. Not only do writers describe what is going on in the pictures, they contextualize it for the reader. The slide show, "Old School in Silicon Valley," could function as a new stories if you took their pictures out. The characteristics of this kind of writing are thoroughness, detail and factual information.

Analysis: Press conference reporting

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by Sarah Harper

On Oct. 6, President Obama spoke at a press conference for an hour and 14 minutes in the East Room of the White House.

The same day, Matthew Daly wrote an article for the Associated Press called "Obama defends Solyndra loan, says solar viable."

The writer made several significant choices concerning the news report.

First, when the AP reporter attributed quotes to President Obama, he made it clear that what was said was said at a news conference - but not until the fourth paragraph. This is significant because the reporter is telling us that the news was not that there was a press conference. The news value comes from what President Obama said. The fact that there was a news conference was not as important or newsworthy.

Second, the AP reporter in no way tried to summarize everything that was discussed at the news conference. President Obama touched on a wide range of topics at the news conference, but the writer zeroed in on the Solyndra loan and the topic of solar power.

Third, the AP article's focus was different from the focus of the news conference. On Oct. 6, President Obama did speak about many things, but the topic he devoted most focus to was the American Jobs Act. The cutline of one of the story's photographs mentions the jobs bill, but other than that, the writer did not mention it. This is significant because it shows that reports of news conferences do not always represent the news conference itself, rather, articles represent what reporters found newsworthy during the press conference.

Analysis: Spot and Follow in Amanda Knox story

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by Sarah Harper

The Los Angeles Times followed up on their Tuesday article, "ITALY: Amanda Knox released from prison" with a story on Wednesday, "ITALY: Amanda Knox leaves Italy for U.S."

The lead in the first-day story accurately summarizes the whole story - or at least, the story up to that point. The writer reported that Knox's murder conviction was overturned and that she was released from Italian prison. The writer of the follow story used updated information: the second-day lead focuses on Knox departing Italy for the U.S.

In the follow story, the information about the murder conviction being overturned is not introduced until the fourth paragraph. This second-day story advances the story by assuming that readers already know about the result of Knox's trial.

This is significant - the Los Angeles Times does not need to summarize the entire story for readers. Instead, the writer picked up with the most recent information and backtracked to a general summary later in the article.

The competition for coverage of the Amanda Knox trial was fierce, due to the news value of conflict. Not to mention that Americans have been invested in the development of the Amanda Knox saga since 2007. After the third paragraph in both stories, readers are linked to photos of the appeal.

by Sarah Harper

The progression of information in The Associated Press' news story "Occupy Wall Street Protesters March Against NYPD" is simple and straightforward.

The reporter's lead truly tells the whole story. The important action is recounted here.

The second paragraph refreshes the reader with what is essentially the same information. More details, including a proper name and a specific location are given.

The third paragraph provides more context and answers the "Why?" question.

The remaining paragraphs continue to give background information, context, and tangentially related information.

The reporter summarized the important elements in the first and second paragraphs. The rest were somewhat less important, but the way they were organized is logical and easy to follow. It makes sense to follow up the paragraph about criticisms of officers with a paragraph about criticisms of the media because they both describe the protesters' conflicts.

An interesting feature of the progression is the arrangement of the final three paragraphs. The reporter waited until the last paragraph to include information that Friday's march was peaceful and that there were no arrests. The paragraphs leading up to this revelation include reports of strife and dramatic conflict between police officers and protesters.

If the final paragraph preceded the paragraphs describing the conflict, it would have changed the way the conflict was interpreted. If a reader knows that Friday's march was peaceful, they might dismiss the conflict between protesters and the media and police as unimportant. By saving the peaceful news for the end, the reporter forced readers to care about the conflict.


by Sarah Harper

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution story about a religious leader's response to Troy Davis' death used five sources.

All five sources used in "Ebenezer pastor continues fight against death penalty" are named, but some facts are attributed to entities rather than specific people.

For example, the family of murdered police officer Mark MacPhail is sourced, but no specific names are given. The Board of Pardons and Paroles is used as a source, similarly without the involvement of any specific person.

Records are used as well - U.S. District Judge William T. Moore's 174-page ruling on Troy Davis is referenced.

Two of the sources used were specific people - Ebenezer pastor Rev. Raphael Warnock and church member Brenda Davenport were both quoted.

The sources are comfortably scattered throughout the story. The writer, April Hunt, does not crowd too many sources into a small amount of paragraphs. From beginning to end, the sources are spread evenly.

A reader does not get confused about which pieces of information come from which source because Hunt, refreshes the reader's awareness of where her information comes from often. Thus, the sources are arranged in an effective way.

Analysis: How the lead works in Star Tribune story

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by Sarah Harper

The straightforward hard-news lead of a story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune summarizes the article for readers.

The writer, Tom Meersman, incorporated several news elements into this lead, including proximity and conflict.

Meersman gives the detail that the units will be near Lake Minnetonka. This information exemplifies the news element of proximity - the Star Tribune is published in Minneapolis. Readers care about nearby news. The addition of the Lake Minnetonka detail is a signal to readers that this story is about something near to them. If Meersman had not included the name Lake Minnetonka, he may have lost the attention of a few readers.

Meersman generally included the conflict in the lead by mentioning that the development had "passed a major hurdle." He devoted significant attention to the conflict later in the story, but he did not go into specifics in the first sentence. Meersman's choice to be general about conflict eliminated the danger of wordiness and overwhelming length. However, the hint of conflict in the lead may entice readers to follow through with the rest of the article.

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