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Hidalgo reporters uncovered evidence that Municipal Judge William C. Romo has been excusing speeding tickets for his friends and their relatives left and right.

The Monitor submitted a public information request to receive a list kept by the court administrator, outlining 839 citations, mostly traffic tickets, that local politicians submitted to the judge for special consideration from January 2010 to April 2011.

It doesn't seem as if too many computer skills were needed to pursue this case. They received a list, counted up the citations and type of citations, and made a story out of it. They then went and tracked down a lot of the big offenders for statements on the subject, and that makes up the brunt of the story.

Analysis: Diversity

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I found a news story about an elderly British man who had been tricked out of thousands of dollars by a smooth-talking middle-aged man who had a history of victimizing old people. I then went to talk to Lois Swenson, a retired senior citizen. I read the story to her and then we discussed it, and she came to the same conclusion that I did on my own -- that any and all stereotypes about old people in this report were no fault of the reporter's, but were simply the way the events played out. The reporter simply reported the facts of the case, and the 88-year-old man victimized in the case happened to be very naive and gullible, a common stereotype of elderly people. However, while the story didn't add any unneeded perceptions and stereotypes, it also didn't work hard to move beyond the stereotypes into something more substantive. This story was simply dry crime reporting, and the reporter just wrote fact blocks about the case.

There was one quote that, I think, did more to make the elderly man look gullible than any other. "Mr. O'Leary said Mr. Watrous was not sure how much money he gave Mr. Price, but the prosecutor placed the total at between $4,000 and $11,650". The fact that he had no idea how much money he had given the man gave Swenson the impression that he did not keep track of his money nearly as well as he should have, which played into the elderly stereotype a bit. However, Swenson also thought that that sentence included some important facts of the case. If the reporter had left the quote out, it might have made the elderly man look less stereotypically naive, but at the cost of leaving out a crucial part of the story.

Lois Swenson, (507)450-6061

Analysis: Numbers

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In a New York Times story called "Private Schools Mine Parent's Wallets, and Data", the reporter uses numbers in three ways. First, he lists a number of monetary figures, to give people an idea of how much some parents are paying in the first place to send their preschoolers to private school ($21,000 a year) and how much money private schools are trying to fundraise outside of that tuition. He also used the percent increase equation to show how much donations to private schools had increased, saying that "median amount of annual giving raised per school increased 268 percent over the last decade, to $1.7 million from $462,341". He also used percents in a more traditional way, pointing out that tuition only provided 80% of the cost of educating the student.

I think that the reporter keeps the numbers from being overwhelming most of the time. While I was reading, I never got lost or had to go back and figure out what I had just read. If we took away too many numbers, and we wouldn't have enough numbers in this story, which is really all about money and percents. There is one paragraph that seems a little messy, where twice in a row he uses the format "increased 260 percent over the last decade, to $1.7 million from $462,341", which strikes me as confusing. Not only could he have switched around the two monetary figures ("from $462,341 to $1.7 million" would have confused me a lot less), but he could have simply left the original, smaller figure out.

I think that the reporter used math to crunch the numbers and get the percentages that would really tell the story. He cited his figures from data from the National Association of Independent Schools, but he used those raw numbers and found the percentages he needed himself.

Analysis: Obituaries

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I chose to analyze the New York Times obituary of David L. Waltz, an influential pioneer in computer science who was responsible for some of the work that lead to today's search engines.

None of the information such as "he went to this school and was taught by this person" was directly cited, presumably because it is easily verified. His wife, Bonnie Waltz, confirmed his cause of death as brain cancer. Two other prominent people in the world of computer science, Brewster Kahle (director of the Internet Archives) and Peter Norvig (Google's director of research), talked about his contributions to their respective fields.

The story made use of a standard obituary lead, stating his full name, summarizing who he was and why he was significant, then stating where and when he died. A single, short sentence stating his age when he died follows.

David L. Waltz, a computer scientist whose early research in information retrieval provided the foundation for today's Internet search engines, died on Thursday in Princeton, N.J. He was 68.

The lead works very well, in my opinion, and I think using an alternative might not have worked as well. Then again, perhaps a different journalist with skills that far surpass my own could have come up with an alternative style lead that worked even better than the standard.

Obituaries are sort of like resumes in many ways, but they are subtly different. Resumes are sort of a list of the things you've done and your abilities, where obituaries are more reflective -- they think about what a person did with their life and what their legacy is. It's a little broader and a little more artistic, in many ways. It also could contain many things that would seem very out of place in a resume, such as personal reflections about the deceased from close friends and family.

Find a news report based on a public meeting, a speech or a press conference by a governmental organization. (If possible, get the agenda or the press release or a copy of the speech. If not, don't worry about that.)

What choices did the reporter make in crafting that news story?

The reporter used a lot of statistics and facts from the government report in the beginning, making the article feel very numbers heavy. For example:

Among the report's more alarming findings are that "more than 47 million people live in places where it is difficult to access dental care," "17 million low-income children received no dental care in 2009," "25 percent of adults 65 and older in the U.S. have lost all of their teeth, and lower income adults in the U.S." "are almost twice as likely as higher-income adults to have gone without a dental checkup in the previous year."

The article got smoother as he or she continued, still stating facts like more dentists retire each year than are hired to replace them, and pointing out that most dentists around the country will not accept medicare patients, making it quite difficult for those with low incomes to get the dentistry help they need.

The author was also quite sure to include the story of 12-year-old Deamonte Driver, a young boy who died of a tooth infection about five years ago because his mother could not find adequate dental care. It helped to get the true gravity of the situation across to a nation that largely ignores it in favor of freaking out about other epidemics.

How has the reporter gone beyond the event itself to help the reader understand its importance?

The reporter sought out an expert in public health and oral health related disparities, professor Nancy Drexel, to shed even more light on the subject. The professor gave the reporter some great quotes, and was able to state the issue in a different, slightly less formal but still authoritative and reliable way.

She also made sure to end her article with a statistic from another source, informing the audience that only 14% of water in New Jersey has access to fluoridated water -- far less than the national average!

Analysis: Multimedia Web Newspapers

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For this week's analysis, I would like to compare the two different (yet similar) ways the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune run their online newspapers. For clarity's sake, I started off with a list format with links to examples of what I refer to in the bullet points.

Chicago Tribune

Accompanying text stories
• Occasionally illustrations (sometimes in lieu of actual photographs)

On their own
News Maps & Apps
Picture slideshow
Picture gallery
Just Videos
Links to related stories

The New York Times

Accompanying text stories
Links to related stories

On their own
NYT video
Picture slideshows
Picture galleries
Raw data
• Interactive maps, quizzes, graphs, and charts among others

On the whole, I believe that the Chicago Tribune almost rivals the New York times in multimedia experience, which is impressive considering their comparative sizes. The New York Times has specific podcasts, a page just for videos, you name it, and it all amounts to more stories than what the Chicago Tribune can offer. But the Chicago Tribune has that one section -- the News Maps & Apps section -- that is just so innovative and informative that the New York Time's data page and multimedia page just don't compare.

Video, pictures, sound, graphs, and any other accompanying material you can add to or link to on your story will enhance it. The web is different than a newspaper in that long swatches of text simply don't look very good, and people don't read it. You can get a lot of information out in much quicker and more pleasing ways, thereby keeping your readership in spite of their seemingly shortened attention spans.

The kind of writing I see in these items varies greatly from item to item, depending on the context each one is used in. Some graphs have no writing other than numbers and basic labels, and some have a lot of short explanatory paragraphs smattered all over the place. Sound bytes and videos can accompanied by an entire story (or are they accompanying the story?) or they can stand on their own. Videos on some pages get short captions below, and many slideshows add a short caption to the bottom of each photo to tell a story. Some stories, very rarely nowadays, consist entirely of high-end writing, though these kinds of stories normally indicate a news organization that is not yet fluent in the web, and that they might just be shoveling their print content onto the website.

Most writing on most news sources on the internet tends to be very simple, effective, and to-the-point. No frills, no fancy language, and with other multimedia sources, such as video and photos, to tell a lot of what is left of the story. Both the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune have really grasped what it is to be a newspaper on the web, and are making huge strides in shaping the future of the field.

Analysis: Sources

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This week, I decided to look at the USA Today story about the U.N. resolution condemning Syria.

Seven sources within the U.N. are named in the article: U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice's, Saudi Arabia's U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Y. Al-Mouallimi, Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, China's deputy ambassador Wang Min, and Egypt's deputy ambassador Osama Abdelkhalek.

These sources are scattered throughout the story, and all of the information is directly from the mouths of U.N. officials, instead of being from documents.

The reporter sets up attribution in the story very fluently. It is effective in that you know where the information is coming from, but it doesn't stop the flow of your reading. For example:

"Saudi Arabia's U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Y. Al-Mouallimi called it "a victory for the Syria people," the U.N. and the Arab League."

The author instantly let me know exactly who Abdallah Y. Al-Mouallimi was and what he said, and didn't waste any more time on it. I think that it was a very effective way of citing his sources.

As I was finishing my blog post about Tommy Jordan Saturday, a bit of breaking news began to blip onto my screen. A few gossip sites were claiming that Whitney Houston had died. Being the educated news consumer I am, I decided to start tracking the story to see if it really panned out or not. Sure enough, about a half hour later, the Associated Press released a statement, and I knew that the story was true.

Before the Associated Press story, just a trickle of websites were posting anything about her death, and none of them were well known names. Within a half hour of its release, the mainstream media began to pick up on it, the earliest merely re-posting the AP article and some of the later ones adding other rumored details or a review of her life.

When I checked back on the story Sunday morning, the story had exploded further, and the press had a lot more to see. She died in a hotel room, partially submerged in water in her bathtub. Her autopsy was in progress, but results from the toxicology report will not be released for another six to eight weeks. Xanax and alcohol together may have sedated her enough that she may have accidentally drowned herself.

For this analysis assignment, I would like to compare this Associated Press story released on the day of her death to this CNN article.

The lead for the AP story is as follows:

"Whitney Houston, who ruled as pop music's queen until her majestic voice and regal image were ravaged by drug use, erratic behavior and a tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown, has died. She was 48."

This is a somewhat dramatized version of a straightforward news lead that summarizes exactly what the rest of the story is to be about and revealed all of the news the press had so far, which is to say, not much. The lead started with Houston's name, since Houston was such a big star. Its description of Houston is also much more flowery than the description they would have given anyone else in the lead. The CNN lead, surprisingly, was less flowery although it lead into a much longer, in-depth story.

"Emotions were raw at the traditionally ebullient Grammy Awards show Sunday, with friends, colleagues and admirers expressing sadness about iconic singer Whitney Houston's sudden death."

This lead does not try to summarize all of what the rest of the article contains, since it covers everything from suspected cause of death to the Grammy show's coverage of her to others' reactions to her death.

The basic facts the reader received from the AP story were these: Whitney Houston, age 48, is dead; her publicist Kristin Foster confirmed this; she died on the eve of the Grammy's; what Quincy Jones had to say about her; and a short recap of her life, achievements, and who she influenced.

The CNN article really did advance the news in that it revealed that she died in a hotel, that the autopsy was complete but that the toxicology report would not come in for another six to eight weeks, that foul play was not suspected, how her death affected the first day of the Grammy Awards, that her 18-year-old daughter had been taken to the hospital "amid the outpouring of grief", and that her ex-husband, Bobby Brown, had appeared torn up by the news during his show Sunday evening.

Chronology of Media Coverage


First reliable
- RQ?docId=0eddb019206a4ad19c15c120c2c17762

Immediately after AP confirms, mainstream media starts reposting/rehashing/making an obituary about the subject

Speculation about death

Stories about the mourning

Analysis: Attribution

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In the whole MSNBC story about the New Ulm children playing "rape tage", only two sources were used: a letter sent out to parents of the school children from the principal, Bill Sprung, and a later interview Bill Sprung had with

Both of these sources were named precisely, and were traced back to one person. No information came from official records, or indeed any other interviewee.

The reporter set up the attributions pretty gracefully, I thought, varying the attributions in such a way that, on the first read through, I didn't notice that all the information in the article came from a single person. For example, at one point, she used:

"We addressed it as an inappropriate game," he told on Thursday.

This citation is quite obvious and is similar to what we have been using in class while writing our hard news briefs. It lets the reader know exactly what the source was and gave a direct quote. This allowed her to later use a more subtle approach with her quotation.

Since the letter went home, Sprung said, he's been contacted by about 15 to 20 parents, some of whom were upset about having to discuss the sensitive topic with their children.

This quote refers back to the interview in the first quote and paraphrases what the principal said, allowing this paragraph to be read more fluidly and naturally than the first. Both are quite useful in news writing, since one is more precise, but that level of precision is hard for audience to read and absorb as well.

In all, I felt that the story was set up and written quite effectively, though it could have used more sources and points of view. It would have added some more color to directly hear from one of the parents or, if the reporter was lucky enough, one of the children.

Analysis: Leads

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"Large payouts to the state's retiring higher education employees are under the microscope at the Capitol."

This was the lead used by Minnesota Daily reporter Kevin Burbach in his article on the current legislative investigation into the MnSCU sick leave payouts.

The lead reveals the "what", the "who", and the "where" when it tells us that large payouts are being given to state education employees and that the capitol is suspicious. However, even those details it gave were pretty general, and each point received more elaboration in the paragraphs that followed.

By "payouts", Burbach was talking about payment given to MnSCU employees in exchange for their unused sick leave or days. By "large", he meant $57 million in sick leave and $38 million in vacation time over the last ten years. When he said "the state's higher education employees", he was talking specifically about those in the MnSCU system, not other public school systems, like the University of Minnesota. He also neglected to mention in the lead exactly who had the employees "under the microscope", so to speak. The reader has to continue to the next sentence to discover that the investigators are a subcommittee led by Sen. Mike Parry.

In all, I found this lead to be a decent hard-news style lead. Most of the details listed in the above paragraph would have seemed out of place when thrown into the first sentence of the story, so Burbach was right to leave that out. There was one area, however, where I think that a little bit of elaboration might have helped this lead pack more of a punch. Near the end of the lead, Burbach writes that the employees are "under the microscope at the Capitol". This is a rather vague expression that tells the audience almost nothing about what is actually happening. Not only that, but in this case it is more important for the audience to know who is investigating the issue than where it is being investigated. Using a more active phrase with more specific verbs, such as "a legislative subcommittee is investigating . . .", could really help this lead become a stronger example of a straightforward hard-news lead.

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