Recently in Notable and Analysis Category

Analysis: Amazon's billion-dollar tax shield

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This piece is part of a Reuters series on corporate tax avoidance, and focuses on how Amazon has set up branches in different countries and has orchestrated payments between them in order to avoid paying U.S. taxes.

Some reporting had been done by different media outlets on how Amazon was evading taxes overseas, but Reuters decided to look into what might be happening in the U.S. To find this information, they examined accounts filed in six countries by 25 different Amazon units.

The main analysis of this data was tracking payments between the units to assess the minutiae of how taxes were being avoided.

To do this, the reporter would have needed to be able to create customized computer lists to track money going between specific units, and would also have needed to do basic math with large sums.

The story includes a short slideshow, but no graphics. However, because of the complexity of the topic, there is an associated video called "Amazon's billion-dollar tax shield: decoder."

The video breaks down the issue into small pieces, showing how Amazon set up the tax-evasion system over time, and why this system works the way it does.

Analysis: Council fuming over airport noise vote

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In this piece, Star Tribune reporter Eric Roper focused on concerns by Minneapolis city council members over the lack of public information about a proposal to concentrate plane routes.

Council members voted on the proposal at their Nov. 12 meeting, but this information is not the focus of the story. Rather, Roper used commentary from several city council members on their confusion about the issue, and their anger about the lack of information available to their constituents.

The story incorporates graphics showing the proposed changes to plane routes, and emphasizes the council members' frustration by including the fact that Lisa Goodman, who represents downtown, had to rely on a graphic in the Star Tribune to find out if the changes would affect her constituency.

The story also includes a quote from Goodman saying she thinks the proposal is being pushed through before "people find out what they're actually up to." This suggests to the reader that the changes are going to be negative for Minneapolis, and that the public should be concerned both about the changes and about the lack of information.

It may have been helpful to know how much information is typically offered to the public on issues like this one, in order to fully understand the issue at hand. However, it is clear from the anger from the four council members quoted in the story that this is out of the ordinary and a matter of concern.

This piece, from the Akela Flats Journal, is about an ongoing dispute between the Fort Sill Apache of New Mexico and the state about creating a casino on their reservation.

The reporter, Dan Frosch, made extensive use of both scene-setting and tribal history in the first part of the article. This provided grounding for the reader, and allowed them to fully understand the context of the current conflict.

Frosch went to the reservation and spoke with the tribal chairman. He also spoke with the tribe's lawyer and the mayor pro tem of a town near the reservation. To represent the other side of the conflict, he interviewed a spokesperson for the Interior Department and did an email interview with a spokesperson for the governor of New Mexico.

There are, of course, a lot of stereotypes about Native American reservations and casinos. Frosch avoids these by making the story more about the conflict and its history than about the casino itself. In order to do this, he represents both sides thoroughly, explaining what is at stake for both. This equalizes them to some degree, but also, I think, leaves the reader on the side of the tribe.

The story, with its vivid scenes and rich history, shows the reader that what is most important to tribe members is to regain land they lost in the 19th century, and that building a casino is a way to do so.

Analysis: Divining music fans' habits

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This article, which was written by Ben Sisario for the New York Times, uses data on the effect that music streaming services have on music listening and purchasing.

The angle of the story is that the relationship between streaming services like Pandora and Spotify is more complicated than one set of data can show. Sisario refers to multiple listener surveys in order to show trends over time and explain disparities.

Data used in the story comes from a survey released last week by the market research firm NPD Group, another survey they released a few months ago and a survey released last year by NPD Group and the National Association of Recording Merchandisers.

The numbers used are percentages, averages and general quantities (for example, "Spotify's subscriber ranks have more than doubled."). This makes the story accessible, and prevents the reader from getting caught up in specific figures.

Sisario did not necessarily crunch the data numbers on his own, but he did analyze them in a way that made them more straightforward. For example, he writes, "additional spending by average fans fell much more than among the most passionate ones." Here, he summarizes the trend shown by the data, rather than providing readers with the raw data with which to draw this conclusion on their own.

The New York Times obituary for George McGovern is an extensive feature, rather than simply an announcement of McGovern's death.

The lead is grounded in the news of his death and its significance, pointing out notable moments from his life and then saying when, where, under what circumstances and at what age he died.

The piece resembles a biography more than it does a resume -- it moves through significant moments in McGovern's life, beginning in the political arena and then returning to his beginnings. Quotes often come from McGovern himself and offer valuable reflections on the information being imparted to the reader. McGovern biographies are also quoted, including "The Making of the President 1972" by Theodore H. White.

The news value of this piece is high given McGovern's prominence in U.S. politics and the legacy of his 1972 bid for the presidency. Every major U.S. news organization covered his death, as did some outside of the U.S.

Interestingly, this particular obituary was written a number of years ago by David Rosenbaum, a Washington correspondent for the New York Times who died in 2006. That alone says a lot about the significance of the piece -- that McGovern's life was being written about extensively even before his death.

Both the New York Times and the Star Tribune offer a range of multimedia options, including video, slideshows, photos and other graphics.

The New York Times has more original content, most notably in its video options -- it produces its own videos, while the Star Tribune may use videos from aggregators like the Associated Press.

The New York Times story 'In Final Days of the Race, Fighting County by County' includes a slideshow entitled 'On the Campaign Trail.' It shows 11 photos of both presidential candidates and their supporters. Each photo is accompanied by a brief caption.

The story itself is a feature on the final days of the campaign -- where each candidate is traveling, the steps they are taking as the election approaches and where concerns remain for each campaign, respectively. The story also includes an interactive map showing how many electoral votes each candidate has, according to polling data, and which states remain undecided. An additional interactive graphic in this story is a swing state tracker, which allows readers to see which candidate may be ahead in a given swing state and see additional information including numbers of visits by the candidates and their spouses. Short blurbs show what the candidates did in each state.

A Star Tribune "story slideshow" entitled 'Workplace shootings in the U.S.' shows seven photos from workplace shootings in recent years. Each photo is accompanied by the date of the shooting, the location, the shooter, the number of people killed and injured and the shooter's motive.

The Star Tribune slideshow is relatively simple, but it allows readers to see similarities and differences between the shootings and get a sense of the scope of the Accent Signage Systems shooting in September.

Gender pay gap starts early, study finds

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Women college graduates still do not earn as much as their male counterparts, a trend that begins right after college, according to a recent study, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported.

The study, conducted by the American Association of University Women, examined data from 2009 on the earnings of male and female college graduates who were working full-time one year after graduation. The data showed that women earned 82 percent of what their male colleagues did.

According to the New York Times, a similar study found women's earnings were 80 percent of men's in 2001.

The gap is often attributed to women doing lower-paid work, the New York Times reported, but the study found that this was not a factor in the disparity. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the study controlled for factors including college major, occupation and hours worked.

The study showed a gap for students from a variety of majors. On average, men earned $8,000 more per year than women.

This story, which was written by Maura Lerner for the Star Tribune, is an update on how the nationwide meningitis outbreak is affecting Minnesota.

It begins with a hard news lede, explaining that the Minnesota Department of Health confirmed two new cases of meningitis in Minnesota that are linked to a contaminated drug.

The nut graf explains who the two people are and identifies the clinics where they received the drug, which gives the reader enough information to understand the significance of the update.

In the next several paragraphs, Lerner gives a broader perspective by explaining how other hospitals and clinics in the state are handling the outbreak. She also explains that the Food and Drug Administration has warned clinics about other drugs from the company that produced the contaminated injections, broadening the scope further.

In the second-to-last paragraph, Lerner explains where the contaminated drugs were manufactured, and the concludes in the last paragraph with data on meningitis cases reported in Minnesota.

The structure of this story is essentially the inverted pyramid, providing the most important and recent information in the beginning and then widening the scope of the story to the end. This is effective because the story is fact-based. Some other coverage of the outbreak has focused in on specific patients and so has been more anecdotal, but this story is meant to inform readers about the most recent development in an ongoing issue.

Analysis: Campaigns mine personal lives to get out vote

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A New York Times story on new data-mining tactics being employed for the first time this year by both presidential campaigns quoted 6 sources, 2 of them anonymous. There are also more vague attributions -- for example, one to "political professionals."

One of the anonymous sources was an official for Governor Mitt Romney's campaign, but was unauthorized the speak to reporters. The second, whose anonymity was not explained, was identified as "a consultant who works closely with Democratic organizations."

The other sources included officials from both campaigns who spoke on the record, as well as a union volunteer and a professor at the University of Notre Dame.

It's unusual to see anonymous sources used, but it makes sense given the nature of the story. The data-mining activities that the article focuses on are a major part of both campaigns' election strategies, and despite the fact that the strategies themselves are similar, campaign officials are likely cautious about the information they reveal.

Much of the information in the story is not attributed, including descriptions of data-mining activities that campaign officials likely described to the reporter. As mentioned above, because both campaigns are still in progress it is unlikely that this type of information would be made readily available to the public -- for example, in document form.

Quotes from sources are scattered throughout the story, allowing them to be in conversation with the information about data-mining that takes up the bulk of the story. The reporter, Charles Duhigg, alternates the way he sets up attribution -- sometimes quotes are cut in half by the name and title, other times it is listed at the end of the quote. This prevents the quotes from feeling too similar and becoming difficult to read.

The relatively low amount of attribution in this story works because it is clear that Duhigg did a lot of research and spoke extensively with representatives from both campaigns. It is likely that he spoke to a lot of more than 6 people, but that others also asked not to be quoted.

Significantly, this story about data is very data-driven, giving the reader specific information about what data-mining is and how it is being used, with commentary from sources providing background.

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