April 22, 2007

73 Killed in Somali Clashes

The Boston Globe reported on the deaths of 73 more people in Mogadishu Saturday in clashes between Ethiopian and Somali troops. The strife also sent more than 300,000 residents fleeing, the biggest refugee movement since 1991. The challenge of the article is to give both history, contex, and detail, while also emphasizing the human element of the story, and it does this extremely well. It ends with these sentences: "I've had enough. I'm abandoning the house. I am caught between two groups -- Ethiopians trying to kill me because I am Somali, and insurgents not happy because I am not picking up a gun and fighting with them. I have lost all hope." I think that this quote captures the feeling of desperation and it's prescence emotionally charges the writing.

The Associated Press covered the events as well, though stated the death toll as 47. The article focuses on the background of the conflict, which is seen by some as a proxy battle between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The governments have an unresolved border dispute that has led to violence in the past.

April 15, 2007

Ethiopia May Have Violated UN Sanctions

The Pioneer Press ran an article from the New York Times about the possible shipment of North Korean weapons to Ethiopia. Ethiopia denies the allegations, stating that the shipment consisted of machine parts and small weapons manufacturing items, which are not prohibited by UN sanctions.

One of the challenges of the article is to deal with the information without going to far to vilify Ethiopia, because there is technically no hard evidence of wrongdoing. The story is carefully composed, stating that the Bush administration decided not to pressure Ethiopia to reject the shipment, even though it was "likely a Security Council violation."

The San Francisco Chronicle also covered the denial, though they use stronger language in the headline, which reads, "U.S. OKd questionable arms deal-Ethiopia purchased weapons from North Korea soon after U.N. leveled sanctions on Pyongyang." This states explicitly that the United States, rather than deciding not to prevent the exchange, actually "OKd" it.

April 8, 2007

Hunger Strike at Guantanamo

The New York Times also had a story on their Web site about 13 detainees at Guantanamo Bay detention center have gone on a hunger strike, which is the most since early 2006, when the prison instituted force-feeding techniques. Prisoners are strapped into "restraint chairs," while fed by plastic tubes inserted into their nostrils.

One of the challenges of this article is in the terminology. Prisoners are called inmates, the prison is called a detention center. In my opinion, this language is imprecise and clouds the meaning. The information in the article, however, is easily understood, highly organized, and succeeds in placing the article in the context of the past several years, when prison officials have been widely accused of performing torture.

In two related stories, Amnesty International released a report on "deteriorating" conditions at Guantanamo Bay's prison. Also, David Hicks will not be able to sell his story to the press, or otherwise profit from the sale of the story of his illegal activity. Thirty-one-year-old Hicks is a former kangaroo skinner.

April 1, 2007

Tsunami threat retracted

The tsunami threat reported today in major news outlets around the world has been retracted, following an earthquake near the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. The earthquake measured 8.1 on the Richter scale, but would only produce a tsunami measuring up to 20 cm, which would pose little threat.

The article, from the Australia Herald-Sun, attempted to summarize up-to-date evidence on the quake and possible scenarios, but fell a little bit short, in my opinion. This may be due to the assumption that Australians are a bit more savvy in the science behind earthquakes and tsunamis than the average reader in Minnesota.

Apart from different magnitude information, which wasn't based on the Richter scale, which the AP stylebook says is no longer used, the article on the Seattle Post Intelligencer's Web site stated that a 10-foot wave crashed through a town in the Soloman islands, causing at least eight deaths, though the story admitted that the information was unconfirmed. A map of the area also helped my understanding of the events.

March 25, 2007

Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan rebels, called Tamil Tigers, launched their first airstike on Sunday, killing three airmen outside the capital.

The article's challenge is to remain neutral in the conflict, and it does this brilliantly. The article is written by the Associated Press in the Houston Chronicle, and gives the sides of the rebels and the government of Sri Lanka.

In addition, it describes the plane that dropped the bomb, gives context about the Sri Lankan government's bombing of the rebels, and lists casualties and fatalities.

The New Straits Times elaborates on the story, giving more details, but to an American audience, the article in the Houston Chronicle says all that is needed.

March 18, 2007

7 U.S. Troops Die in Iraq

The Star Tribune had an Associated Press article on the deaths of seven U.S. soldiers, including four killed by a roadside bomb. In addition, seven Iraqis were killed by a car bomb targeting people cooking food to offer as charity on a Shiite Muslim holiday.

The article covers a lot of ground, so clearly there needs to be a significant amount of summarization balanced with detail, which the article does effectively. In the attack on the open-air market, the reference to the deceased cooking for charitable reasons gives the story depth that it absence would prevent. The article also includes information about three suicide bombers who rigged trucks with tanks of toxic chlorine gas, for example.

Forbes magazine also covered the story in much the same way, but with different numbers of wounded, probably as the result of new information.

March 3, 2007

Iraq Terror Group Posts Murder Footage

The Pioneer Press posted a story by the Associated Press about an al-Qaida-affiliated groups posting of the tape of the killing of 18 Iraqi security forces members. The killings were in response to the alleged rape of a Sunni woman by members of the Shiite-dominated force.

The challenge is to put context behind the killings, which the article does immediately. It later follows with more background information, both about the incident itself and the recent wave of "high profile" Sunni reprisals.

Because the story is so recent, only the Associated Press version is available. However, the New York Times reported 15 minutes ago that U.S. airstrikes hit an al Qaeda post in Iraq, which may be a possible retaliation.

February 24, 2007

Post-Putin Russia

The New York Times Magazine ran a story today stating that Sergei B. Ivanov, the first deputy prime minister, might be the next president of Russia. The former K.G.B. agent is "presumed to be a contender, just as there is presumed to be an election, scheduled for March 2, 2008."

The article is by its nature speculative, which its author, Steven Lee Myers, admits. The challenge is to make the article newsworthy, with the election more than a year in the future, and speculation whether Vladimir Putin will step down from the presidency. The article is quite lengthy, and deals with the main issues early on, and then goes back to elucidate more information from multiple sources.

Independant Online also covered the story, albiet in a much more abbreviated style that emphasized the inverted pyramid style. This version was informative, but didn't draw me in to the story like the New York Times Magazine story.

February 18, 2007

Car Bombs Kills 60 in Baghdad

The New York Times reported that at least 60 people died as a result of car bombs closely following Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki calling the first days of the security crackdown in this capital city a “dazzling success." Though so many deaths is clearly newsworthy on any day, the reporter's challenge in this article is to relate the explosions to the al-Maliki's announcement, which he does in the lead.

The Star Tribune ran with a story, Sunday, by the Associated Press. The lead here stresses that militants were "sending a message" and striking back at officials due to the announcement. The New York Times article is more explicit in the relationship of the announcement and the bombings, and is therefore the better article in my opinion. Al-Maliki's response seems a little bit contradictory, as well. "These crimes confirm the defeat of these perpetrators and their failure in confronting our armed forces, which are determined to cleanse the dens of terrorism," he said in a statement.

February 9, 2007

Hamas, Fatah Accord

Hamas and Fatah have been at odds recently, but signed a power-sharing agreement on Thursday, National Public Radio reported today. Some Palestinians rejoiced, while others were skeptical that the national unity government will be able to meet the conditions for international sanctions to be lifted.

The challenge of this article is simple. It is an ongoing story, so keeping the background information about the conflict between the two groups should be kept to a minimum, with a focus on the prospects that the agreement will bring about change. It meets these challenges, but adds a visible symbol of the agreement, the waving of green Hamas banners alongside yellow Fatah flags. The visual aspects are followed by a soundbite of gunfire, and the words of reporter Eric Westervelt. "Just a few days ago, the two sides were pointing their AK-47s at each other. Last night the weapons were pointed into the sky for the obligatory celebratory gunfire." I feel like this adds an emotional component to the story that helps it rise above the mundane coverage in other news outlets, such as the New York Times article.

In my opinion, the Times article gives the story a much larger treatment which provides more depth. The fact that the agreement is not likely to renew international aid to the coalition. This article also provides many more quotes, representing more diverse opinions on the agreement and what it means.

February 3, 2007

Bird Flu in England

Salon.com reported one hour ago that Britain has confirmed the H5N1 strain of the bird flu on a farm owned by Europe's largest turkey producer. 2,500 turkeys have died, and the remaining 159,000 turkeys will have to be slaughtered on the farm, located 130 miles northeast of London. This information is attributed to Britain's Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer Fred Landeg. Later in the story another source is used: '"This virus is going to be in bird populations for years to come and the way in which we'll deal with it is by implementing the well-rehearsed plan to stamp it out at source," Dr. David Nabarro, the U.N. influenza coordinator, told British Broadcasting Corp. television."' It's interesting that the news agency that Nabarro was talking to was cited in the attribution. This short article is breakink news, and the task that the journalist faces is therefore primarily to summarize the events, the location, the steps being taken to combat the bird flu, and to quote an expert. It suceeds in this, while setting up the opportunity to follow with more information as it becomes available.
Reuters ran with a similar story, but is notable for using an abbreviation directly after an organization's name, which is not acceptable in AP style. "The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said all 159,000 birds there would be culled over the next few days." In another paraphrasing with attribution, the Reuters story states: "Avian flu expert Colin Butter of the Institute of Animal Health said the British outbreak was surprising as it had happened outside the main bird migration period." This article had more detail than the brief AP story reprinted in, including more information about the last incidence of bird flu in Britain, a wild swan that presumably washed ashore in Scotland.

January 27, 2007

Soldiers abducted

The Star Tribune reported on a sophisticated attack in Iraq on Jan. 20th. Gunmen captured four American soldiers in a raid on U.S. headquarters in Karbala. The U.S. command confirmed that the gunmen spoke English, were wearing U.S. military uniforms, and using U.S. weapons. A fifth soldier was killed in the initial assault. The challenge of the article was to explain the original statement of the U.S. command, which was contradicted by the more recent statement. Originally, the U.S. command stated that one U.S. soldier was killed along with three wounded by a "hand grenade thrown into the center's main office," while the report on Friday stated that the four soldiers were executed near the southern town of Mahawil. The authors, Steven R. Hurst and Qassim Abdul-zahra, effectively met this challenge by presenting the facts in a clear manner, stating what was recently discovered and then backtracking to the events of Jan. 20.
The Pioneer Press covered the event in a more abbreviated manner, focusing less on the discrepancies of the U.S. statements and more on details about the attack. Notably, the article from the Star Tribune stated that a "senior Iraqi military official" believes that the sophistication of the attack indicates that the attackers may have been working in conjunction with Iranian intelligence agents, though this possibility wasn't raised until the article's final paragraph. I think this possibility may have deserved earlier placement, though it was still included and makes the Tribune's article the better of the two. The events, though less descriptive, were summarized more succinctly and the sophistication of the attack was actually highlighted better by the quote from the Iraqi military official.

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