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Analysis: Data sets

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For this week's analysis, I looked at "13th Grade: How Florida Schools Are Failing to Prepare Graduates for College" from the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

The issue explored by this article -- why Florida students are graduating from high school without being able to "read, write, or solve math problems well enough to take some college-level courses" -- is one with a variety of sources, none of which are without their controversies. This means that not only did the authors have to hunt for various types of statistics and information from a multitude of sources, but they also had to work hard to ensure that the facts they were using were all sound and reliable.

The authors had to know what to look for -- which means they had to brainstorm all the different types of sources that could explain this issue, and then hunt for relevant information and data. First of all, the authors use information regarding school records -- that more than half of high school graduates who took the college placement test in the 2010-2011 school year found out they had to take at least on remedial course in college to boost skill, for example. This required taking data from education departments and perhaps other sources across the state, specifically regarding college placement tests and demand for remedial courses. They reference things like the "Florida College System Readiness report"

Then, the authors explored economic data. One of the factors behind the crisis of remedial education at community and state colleges that they chose to discuss was the Great Recession. This means that they had to dissect relevant economic data in order to intelligently discuss the reasoning behind this argument, too.

The authors also assert that there is a disconnect between what students are learning in K-12 schools and what they need in order to be successful in college. For this section, they analyzed things like curriculum and graduation requirements, Florida's history of change and primary education reform, and more.

The authors of this article did not utilize many "online tools" in order to engage the reader. They did not include charts or anything to pictorially display the many statistics they write about in their article; the only images were headshots of the people quoted in the article. The article was accompanied by a radio report from State Impact Florida, though, which was kind of unique to see on a news organization's website. I like this combination of media forms; it was interesting to listen to the clip while reading the article.

The most notable work of the authors of this article seems to be research. They looked at a lot of different data and spoke with different people from a variety of sources. I'm sure they also did more than a little data analysis in computer programs like SPSS, that help statistics become a little bit clearer. Whereas they did not choose to use online tools, I would have appreciated a few graphics that really illustrated the basics of this issue. It was a long article with many blocks of text and a lot of numbers -- I think the statistics would have had more impact on me if I had seen them displayed graphically or visually rather than just read about them through text.

Analysis: Naming Suspects

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For this week's news analysis, I am looking at the article "Arrest made in sex assault of woman near St. Kate's campus in Minneapolis" in the Star Tribune. This news report is based off the Minneapolis Police Department's press release entitled "St. Kate's CSCR suspect arrested in St. Paul."

It's interesting to look at the quick turnaround on this news report. The news release was posted on Facebook at 1:01 p.m., and Paul Walsh's Star Tribune article is listed as being updated at 3:47 p.m.

The most notable differences between the news release and the Star Tribune's article is that the Star Tribune did not use any names in the article. It is clearly its newsroom policy to not name suspects until they have been formally charged; the only identifying details about the suspect are that he is male and his age. In fact, the article explicitly states that the man has not been charged; readers can read between the lines and understand that that is the reason that the article does not contain his name.

Other news organizations, however, do not make this same choice. For example, an article entitled "Suspect Arrested in Sexual Assault Near St. Kate's" on the website for KAAL-TV does choose to name the suspect.

The author also chooses not to explicitly name the police officer who interviewed the suspect, whereas this is listed in the news release. Perhaps it is newsroom policy to keep all names out of this type of article - the very first discussion of a suspect - so as to provide readers with the bare-bones details and fill in the rest as more information is learned. Or perhaps the reporter simply did not find it important to discern which specific officer is involved in the case.

I did not actually previously realize that news releases from the police are published publicly for anyone to find (i.e. on the internet). However, while doing this news analysis, I noticed that the Minneapolis Police Department posts these on its Facebook page! This was very surprising to me. I have known for a long time that newsroom policies about "naming names" are always a top consideration for journalists, but such standards seem slightly less vital now that the general public can access these names anyways. I know that matters of public record have always been available to anyone who wants them, but it's a bit different to have to go to City Hall to search through them, as people did before the internet. Now, they show up on people's Facebook news feeds! This is very interesting to me and brings up an important issue for debate.

Analysis: Oregon's first lesbian legislative leader

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For this week's analysis, I am looking at "Oregon will have nation's first out lesbian Speaker of House," an article written by Robert Hulshof-Schmidt of The Examiner.

This article is written about Tina Kotek, an out lesbian legislator in the state of Oregon. She has served as leader of the Oregon House Democratic Caucus since 2011 and will be Speaker of the House for the 2013 session -- the first lesbian legislative leader in the nation.

The author of this article does a great job of using neutral language to describe Kotek. He does not use the word homosexual, which has a negative connotation and should generally be avoided. Instead, he refers to Kotek as a lesbian, as openly gay, as out.
I also appreciate the way in which the author makes it very clear that the fact Kotek is a lesbian is just one aspect of her life. The author finds a good way to balance highlighting the accomplishments she has made in her political career -- the milestones she has made as an openly gay legislator -- while still making it clear that sexual orientation is just one part of her (just as being straight is one part of other politicians). In fact, the author blatantly says such: "Kotek will be one of a handful of legislative leaders who are out and proud and the first lesbian to hold such a position. While her sexual orientation is just one facet of her life, she is proud to represent the community."

Beyond accomplishing the history she is making as an openly gay legislator, though, the author does not dwell on Kotek's sexual orientation. Instead, he talks about the same type of things an article about a straight legislator would -- that Kotek recognizes that the Legislature has a lot of hard work to do, what type of opportunities there are for the future, and so on.

The article also talks about Kotek in the same way an article about a straight person would, too, which illustrates that the author does not hold a bias (nor is overcompensating to try to cover up a covert bias). The end of the article talks about how Kotek came to Oregon, how she got involved in politics, and her personal life (it mentions that she lives in Portland with her partner, Aimee Wilson).

I think the author did a great job giving credit where credit was due for Kotek's historical accomplishment as the first open lesbian legislator while clearly illustrating that her sexual orientation is just one part of her. I especially believe that the language the author chose made the article very nonbiased. I believe his only source was Kotek, as she was the only one quoted in the article, but that appeared to be enough for this short article to have its impact.

For this week's analysis, I'm using the article "Aussie Dollar Rises, Snaps 3-Day Drop, Before Wages Data" from Bloomberg Businessweek.

Because this article was written for Bloomberg Businessweek, the author rightfully assumes particular qualities of his audience and writes accordingly. For that reason, some of the language was a bit unfamiliar to me. However, the parts in which the author used numbers and described the status of the Australian dollar were written at a more basic level.

The author used different types of figures to specifically detail the points that he introduced at the beginning of the article: that the Australian dollar is strengthening. He used percentages, explaining how much the Aussie dollar had risen, as well as decimals when describing specific amounts of money. He also used plain dollar amounts.

I will say that I was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of numbers the author used in some of his sentences. One of his paragraphs consisted of three sentences that were all incredibly heavy with numbers:
"The Aussie dollar rose 0.3 percent from last week to $1.0419 as of 3:06 p.m. in Sydney and strengthened 0.3 percent to 82.79 yen. It touched $1.0480 on Nov. 7, the highest since Sept. 21. New Zealand's currency gained 0.3 percent to 81.61 U.S. cents and added 0.2 percent to 64.85 yen."

Even though it is obviously important for all these details to be conveyed to the reader, I wonder if there might have been a way to break up the information here so that the reader does not feel bombarded with numbers. I also felt confused by the last two sentences in this sentence: when exactly did New Zealand's currency gain 0.3 percent? Nov. 7? 3:06 p.m. in Sydney on Sunday? Sept. 21? It was difficult for me to keep this information straight among all the dates, percentages, numbers, and money.

As a non-business-minded person, I was also not clear on the source of all the numbers. The author specified that certain facts came from "the statistics bureau," "National Australia Bank Ltd." and "Interest-rate swaps data compiled by Bloomberg," but for all the information about the Aussie dollar rising, etc., the author just wrote "the data showed." I'm not sure which data he is referring to, but maybe everyone else does.

I'm not sure if the author crunched any math himself here, but he may have done some converting from raw numbers to percentages, etc. I do find it helpful that he includes different forms of numbers to paint a clear picture of the Aussie dollar changes, etc.

Analysis: Obituary

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For this week's analysis, I used a Nov. 4 obituary written by Bruce Weber for the New York Times. The headline is: "Richard N. Current, Civil War Historian, Dies at 100."

This obituary starts out in the standard obituary lead: It names him, sums up his greatest life accomplishments ("...whose award-winning scholarship helped demythologize Abraham Lincoln and raise Lincoln studies to a professional level of scholarly inquiry..."), and says he died on Oct. 26. It then has a short sentence to say how old he was.

This obituary certainly differs from a resume in the respect that it goes beyond listing his accomplishments and tracing the timeline of his career. It paints a picture of his life and develops the context of his work without idealizing his character. It relies on the words of people who knew him to develop this timeline, although all of the quotes used are not all as personal as I would have liked.

After reading this, I do feel as though I know a lot about Current's career accomplishments and very little about his character. I actually feel like I know as much about the history of biographies on Lincoln as I do about Current's life. As he was a scholar, it makes sense that the main focus of the article is his work, but I would have liked a bit more information about his life outside of books on Lincoln. This is much more about Current's work than his life; this is confirmed by the quotes the author chose to include -- they are all comments on Current's work. I found it peculiar that even though it was clear that the author talked to his wife because he writes that she said the cause of his death was complications due to Parkinson's disease, there was no quote from her or any other family member about his life outside of work.

The only quote I felt was helpful in developing a picture about who he was is the very last one, in which Professor Neely calls him a "very tough critic" and describes a memory that speaks to that.

All in all, this obituary felt a bit cold; it did not seem very personal or heart-warming. However, this may be the general tone desired by the family or just what the author thought was best given Current's life -- it's hard to know without having done the research myself!

For this week's news analysis, I am going to look at the Huffington Post and the Star Tribune. These two news organizations' websites have similarities and differences in the way they incorporate multimedia content into their overall websites and individual stories.

Huffington Post definitely links its stories to images in a more obvious manner. The story that the Huffington Post staff finds most important is always accompanied by a giant image at the top of the page (with huge text, too), and as one scrolls down the page, he or she notices that every story is introduced with a picture and a headline. The picture is certainly the predominating feature; there may be only a few words to accompany it.

The Star Tribune accompanies its story teases with pictures, too, but not in the case of every story. Its "Latest News" section is text-only (in list format). If one scrolls further down the page, there are other stories accompanied by images, but the top half of the page is more text-heavy. The images are not quite as large as those that accompany the stories on the Huffington Post page.

For the majority of the stories that one clicks on via either the Star Tribune or Huffington Post site, the page looks the same: the article is accompanied by just one image. As far as photo albums go, the Star Tribune has a separate section, halfway down the homepage, that features photo galleries. The Huffington Post does not have a specific area in which photo galleries are featured, but it does set off this type of story with "PHOTOS: ____". The Star Tribune does a better job of guiding interested readers directly to the photo albums because of the way in which it groups them into their own section.

Both sites have a section for videos. For the Huffington Post, this is HuffPost Live, and for the Star Tribune, this is "Latest Videos." Both organizations feature this video section toward the top of the page.

The organization of these two news organizations' pages illustrates that they both fully recognize the importance of providing readers with visuals and engaging multimedia content. This goes beyond the original reader's capabilities with print media; the user could only read what was in front of him. But with photo albums, for example, the user is not passive, for he is required to actively press the arrows to scroll through different images. In the age of the Internet, graphics have become more and more important; people stray from blocks and blocks of text. I do think the Huffington Post page -- with its large photos for every story -- is a bit more aesthetically pleasing, although it is certainly a more feature-driven organization than the Star Tribune. The Star Tribune tends to focus on hard news, so it does not have the means to obtain strong visuals for everything. Sometimes, it relies on stock photos or does not have a photo to use with a story.

The most interesting recent addition to these news organizations' pages is certainly the videos, which they display prominently, signaling that they find this section important. This is a change that took place within this decade. A few years ago, print and video news were two separate entities, but the lines have been very blurred throughout the Internet's "takeover" of news. It is very clear that print news organizations are trying to become more engaging and versatile by incorporating videos to appease the auditory learner.

Analysis: Earlier puberty seen in boys

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In the Associated Press's article, "Earlier puberty seen in American boys, some experts doubt trend," the author organized the details according to what she felt was most important for the reader to know. This article is an example of a deviance from the traditional "inverted pyramid" model, yet it is engaging nonetheless.

The lead does not provide much information; it is more intriguing than informative. The second graf provides all the necessary information -- the who, what, when, etc.

The author chooses to address the "why" in the third graf, whereas she places particular information about the study -- when and how it was conducted, etc. -- toward the middle of the article. This is interesting to me because I would have originally thought I should put this information further up; however, when I think more about it, it makes sense that she placed this further down. In the grand scheme of things, people are more interested in the "why" rather than the details of how many people partook in this study and so on.

Another interesting aspect of this article is that the author introduces early on (around the fourth graf) that there is a controversy that surrounds the information in this study. She writes, "Doctors say earlier puberty is not necessarily cause for concern. And some experts question whether the trend is even real." I feel like this "counterargument" is usually introduced later in the article. By getting to it right away, the author ensures that a main focus of this article is that there are two sides.

Lastly, I found the author's use of "but" constructions unusual. It almost made the article take an argumentative tone in places, or at least a subjective one.

The author ends with a quote that does not seem very strong or interesting. That might be the only thing I would have changed -- either pick a different quote or choose to end the article a different way.

All in all, I think the organization of this article is logical. It is very long, so it is important to get the most vital and novel information in at the top, and the author accomplishes that.

Analysis: Obama's pre-debate strategy

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In the Virginian Pilot's article, "Pre-debate, Obama hunkers down at Kingsmill resort," the author talks about Obama's preparation strategy for Tuesday's debate, the second in this year's presidential campaign. The author builds the story around the perspective of his sources, creating a unique angle. This is a story about the presidential campaign, but the author does not limit his sources to President Obama, Governor Mitt Romney, or their campaign teams. Instead, he creates a story around the opinions other have about the piece of news: that Obama is at a resort in Williamsburg, Virginia to prepare for the debate.

The author leads with the discussion of an event completely different from the presidential campaign: a high-end car show that happens to be taking place right where Obama is staying this weekend. The author quotes an attendee who talks about how Obama likely won't be seen at the car show. This is used to set up the rest of the details about Obama's weekend in Virginia.

The beginning of the story might mention a car show, but by the middle, all that's being discussed are the "5 W's" about Obama's campaign preparation. Having already quoted a "regular" source, the author throws the one quote he has from the president himself into the middle of the story.

Because he did not have any more of the president's words available, the author had to be creative. He goes back to talking about the car show and quotes another attendee, stating that he is an Obama supporter.

The author then presents the alternative viewpoint and ensures he remains balanced in the story. He talks to the car show's celebrity judge about why he does not support Obama.

The author's selection of sources in this story illustrates creativity and balance. He found a way to take a unique angle on a relatively blasé and straightforward story: that the president is in Virginia preparing for the debate. He moved beyond that basic fact and made the story about the local people and their reactions, which served to make the story more interesting for the readers. This is an example of how the sources an author chooses can really shape the entire story, from start to end. It gave a straight news piece more human interest, feature-like qualities.

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