Recently in National News Category

The article All eyes remain on Florida jail as neighborhood watch volunteer awaits release on bail by the Associated Press for the April 22 Minneapolis Star Tribune is an example of a national news story.

All eyes remain on the Florida jail where the man charged with murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is awaiting release on bail, and it could be several days before he leaves.

This is a pretty solid lede. It is eye-catching and interesting while still telling the facts. The passive "is awaiting" could just be "awaits" and there should be a separate sentence at the conjunction.

George Zimmerman's attorney was still working Sunday to secure the money for bail and a safe place for the 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer to stay. But residents in Sanford, where Martin was killed, don't expect a ruckus once Zimmerman is released.

"Is still working" could just be "still worked" to avoid passive voice. Conjunctions at the beginning of sentences should only be used sparingly, and I think it could have been avoided in this situation easily.

City commissioners haven't received calls from nervous residents. Protesters haven't showed up outside the jail. And talk at one local coffee shop seldom focused on the case.

I stand by my comment on conjunctions at the beginning of sentences from before. I also wonder how this reporter knows these things aren't happening. Did the reporter actually go to the coffee shop and listen? I think this needs to be sourced. It's nice color, but it seems easily made up.

"It's just kind of a non-issue now," said Michele Church, a server at Mel's Family Diner. "That's pretty much all anybody in Sanford wanted, was an arrest, so it could be sorted out in the court system."

Nice quote and a good source.

On Friday, a Florida judge agreed to let Zimmerman out on $150,000 bail. Defense attorney Mark O'Mara has said there are several options for where Zimmerman should go, but would not disclose any of them. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester on Friday indicated Zimmerman would be allowed to leave the state if arrangements with law enforcement could be made for him to be monitored. He will be fitted with an electronic device.

"Has said?" Why not just "said" to avoid passive-ness? I think the second "on Friday" could be left out since it was already said once. The last sentence seems awkward. I know what the reporter means, but it just sounds very strange that he will be fitted with an electronic device. Maybe if the reporter had specified what kind of device it was it wouldn't be so weird.

About a half-dozen photographers and cameramen remained camped outside the Sanford jail Sunday, focused on the door marked "Bonds Rooms," where other people who had been arrested and released on bail exited. By mid-afternoon there was still no sign of Zimmerman, who entered the jail about a week earlier after more than a month of nationwide protests calling for his arrest.

"Remained camped" should just be "camped" since it means the same thing, really. That first sentence is really wordy and could probably be broken up into smaller sentences. There is nice detail, though. This reporter uses color well.

"The mood in Sanford has calmed down tremendously," said Sanford Commissioner Patty Mahany, whose district includes the neighborhood where Martin was killed. "I think now that people are able to see the justice system taking place, even though they understand it's going to be quite slow, people are willing to just remain calm and really we're all getting back to our daily routines."

Is she the police commissioner? When it just says commissioner, I wonder what exactly she is commissioner of. That's a good quote, but it didn't really add much that hadn't already been paraphrased before.

She said there were no special plans by the city under way in anticipation of Zimmerman's release.

A spokeswoman for the Seminole County Sheriff's Office declined to release any information about whether they were increasing patrols or security.

The "under way" seems out of place and should have gone after "special plans" instead of "city," I think. Even though the Sheriff's Office declined to say anything, I think that was an important question to ask. Too bad that's all the reporter could get, though.

Zimmerman has been the subject of scorn and debate in the weeks after he shot and killed Martin, who was unarmed and returning from buying Skittles and iced tea at a convenience store. The case has been the focus of continuing attention and sparked a discussion about race and the laws of self-defense. Before he turned himself in, members of the New Black Panthers had put out a bounty for his arrest.

This is very important background on the story and I think it could have been higher. Obviously, I think everyone in America has heard of this case. But since the article is about what unrest may occur after he is released from jail, it might have been nice to know that the New Black Panthers had put a bounty on him before. It would have put things in perspective of how serious this could be.

Defense attorneys for other high-profile clients who awaited trial on bail have said Zimmerman should leave Florida and refrain from going out in public. Sanford residents say they aren't expecting to see him around the neighborhood anytime soon.

It is weird that the reporter quotes defense attorneys without naming specific ones. It seems too vague. Also, "have said" could easily just be "said." Also, shouldn't it be "Sanford residents said" in the past, not present tense?

"They've already said they're going to move him to a safe place," Church said. "Everyone has calmed down. That's all anyone in Sanford wanted, an arrest."

That's the second time someone has said all people wanted was an arrest. That theme could have been exploited a lot more to make the story more interesting and obvious. Everyone expects there to be drama when this guy is released, but the residents really don't care. That could be more prominent.

Meanwhile, Martin's parents published a "Card of Thanks" in The Miami Herald obituary page Sunday. The note says Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin express their appreciation for all the public's support since their son's death. The notice includes a photograph of Trayvon Martin dressed in a hooded sweatshirt, similar to one he was wearing the evening he was killed.

"Words will never express how your love, support and prayers lifted our spirits and continue to give us the strength to march on," the letter says.

This is very nice detail and very touching, but kind of irrelevant to the story. Quotes are usually pretty weak kickers, and this is not the exception. It should also be "said" not "says."

Overall, this was an interesting follow-up to do on a story that is very well known and will be followed for months to come. Inquiring into what will become of the shooter after he gets out of prison was good reporting. Unfortunately, the story fell a little flat since people didn't really seem to care about his release. That might have been spun into a more intriguing story, but the way it was written didn't do that. Otherwise, the writing technique was pretty solid and so were the sources and reporting. A lot of work went into the story, the color and detail shows that.

The article Chaos at Oakland religious school as gunman opened fire is recalled by Maria L. LaGanga and Matt Stevens is a national breaking news story form the April 2 Los Angeles Times.

Hours after Oakland police were called to a small religious school on Edgewater Drive, authorities recounted the frantic and often confused events of the afternoon with new detail and clarity.

This is a confusing lede. The reporter made a very simple statement ("A school shooting occurred in Oakland") into a very complex and confusing introduction. This was clearly a press conference or statement of sorts, so I understand not wanting to make the news that a press conference was held, but it could have been lead in better. The writer also began with a phrase ("hours after") when it should have started with the news of "authorities recounted."

Police dispatchers received the first call for help at 10:33 a.m., said Officer Johnna Watson, spokeswoman for the Oakland Police Department.

This is a solid paragraph. It is active and appropriately sourced. The only thing is that this is setting up the rest of the story to be chronological when I think it is more important to do an inverted pyramid model so the news is first.

Within minutes, police and rescue personnel arrived at the low-slung building in an industrial area that is also home to a sprawling car dealership, a food bank and several Korean-run businesses.

First, this should be split into two sentences where the "that" is. Also, "within minutes" should go at the end of the first sentence, not the beginning. It distracts readers from the real point of the sentence. There is nice detail about how the building looked and what kind of neighborhood it is in. The color is good, especially for a dramatic story like this, but there could have been much more detail to make it even more real.

Quickly realizing there was a shooter on the loose, officers called in specialized SWAT units, which made entry into the school building, where at least some of the victims were discovered. It appeared, Watson said, that most, if not all, of the shooting took place inside. SWAT officers methodically cleared each room in the school and in surrounding buildings in search of more victims and the shooter but eventually concluded that the suspect was not inside.

And the author did it again. The phrase beginning with "quickly" should go at the end of the sentence. Phrases confuse readers, so every sentence should be straight forward and clear. The whole first sentence uses many commas which is hard to read and understand. The writer should have considered splitting that sentence up into several smaller ones. Watson's attribution in the second sentence should go at the end, not awkwardly in the middle. The last sentence is likewise confusing with lots of "ins" and conjunctions. Also, how does the reporter know they "quickly realized" or "methodically searched?" Unless that is sourced, it sounds a little like an opinion. This was a very long paragraph that should have been condensed down.

A man suspected of being the lone shooter was taken into custody a short time later. Watson did not identify the man and described him only as "an Asian male in his 40s." She did not say where the man was apprehended or what led police to him. Investigators were still working to determine a motive for the shooting and the man's connection to the school.

Instead of saying "suspected of being" it might have been nice to make that active, as in "police took a suspect into custody." Watson's quote probably could have been paraphrased instead of using an awkward partial quote. The writer did a pretty good job of sourcing, but I think this paragraph could have been split into a few shorter ones for clarity's sake.

Ezra Curry, 48, a bus driver from Berkeley, had a dentist appointment near the school. He arrived about an hour after the shooting had started and described the chaotic scene. "I saw a melee. Cops with rifles drawn, five helicopters flying overhead. I saw a body on a blue tarp in the median. He was still alive, they ... tried to bring him back."

The quote merits its own paragraph; it should not be jammed in with the speaker's introduction. It is a great quote, there is a lot of detail and the word "melee" which is awesome, but I question its accuracy. It sounds like a very stressful situation and if only this guy was spoken to, I'm not sure his memory can be trusted on its own. Also, was the shooting still going on an hour after it started or did he just see the aftermath? That could have been made clearer. Also, the "..." is only for if words are cut out of the quote, not for dramatic pauses. This sounds like it was put in for a pause, and I am not okay with that. This is news, not a novel.

The death toll stood seven by midafternoon, and several other people at the school were injured.

Wow, this news should have been first, in the nutgraf if not the lede itself. School shootings are crazy and as important as it is to know how events unfolded, it is way more important to know about casualties. Also, midafternoon should be specified by what day it actually was (Monday). This could have been two sentences as well.

Writing breaking news can be just as chaotic as the news itself, but this was not well done. It was confusing and hard to follow. It also obscured the real news. I think the writers were trying to give a dramatic spin to the news as well which was unnecessary. The news is dramatic enough, it speaks for itself. There is no need to try and add drama with an artistic lead and circular writing. It just confuses things. The two sources were good, but I would have tried to talk with someone from the school because that perspective was lacking. If more attention was paid to the basics of news writing, the story would have been much more readable.

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