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April 26, 2009

5.5 Seconds

Cheryl W. Thompson writes about the shooting of DeOnté Rawlings, a teen who was suspected of stealing a minibike in D.C., in the story 5.5 seconds that was printed in the Washington Post. The incident is controversial because the 14-year-old boy was shot and killed by two police officers that were on the scene and were responding in self-defense after being shot at by Rawlings. It has recently come to light, however, that Rawlings might not have been the one who shot at the officers and that his death was in fact unjustifiable.

Thompson uses a number of computer-assisted reporting skills to help her create the story. Thompson reports in this story that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier had publicly promised a thorough and open investigation, something that Thomspon must have either looked up online or listened to on the television. Also, as Thomspon describes how neither the mayor nor the police chief supported their promise to keep the case open to the public; Thompson most likely tried to access public records and found that this was impossible or tried to report on the incident and found it difficult to access records that had earlier been deemed open to the public. Thompson could only draw the conclusion that the case was not open to the public if she herself could not access the files and databases she should have been able to, something that requires reporting.

Also, Thompson references the Washington Post, which means she must be keeping updated with news either online or in print; since it is easier to track the history of stories online (see if there are follow-ups or different “chapters” in a story), she most likely was paying attention to what other publications were saying about the story.

Thompson references police records in the story, which justifies the fact that she most likely accessed the records either online or in person. She also references a sensor system known as ShotSpotter, which detects and locates gunshots. Thompson accessed the ShotSpotter reports for this particular incident in order to help her report the story.

There is also a reference to Rawlings’ police records, which are from D.C. Thompson has also likely accessed court reports regarding the lawsuit that was brought against the city and the two officers in U.S. District Court.

Lastly, Thompson clearly references the initial incident report regarding the shooting throughout the story, proving that she had accessed this report.

The computer skills that were needed in order to create this story were the ability to access a variety of public records, whether it is via computer or in-person. Thompson clearly accessed numerous records such as court, police, and incident records, among an assortment of others. Without her ability to access such records and know where and how to find them, Thompson would have been unable to do much of the required reporting for this story.

April 13, 2009

Religious Tradition Highlight For Mexico

In the New York Times story “A Mexican Tradition Runs on Pageantry and Faith,” which was written by Larry Rohter and published April 11, 2009, Rohter describes the weeklong Passion Play that takes place annually in Mexico.

The Passion Play, which is held in the city of Iztapalapa on the outskirts of Mexico City, is a real-life depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Candidates are chosen based on specific requirements that state those who wish to play Jesus must adhere to a “proper state of purity.” This means that no dating, drinking, smoking or partying can take place from the moment they get the role. Candidates must also have the economic means to purchase the costumes they need to wear.

Another requirement that candidates who want to portray Jesus includes the physical ability to withstand the role. The real-life depiction of Jesus in the Play includes being able to take a ritual whipping in the square, the ability to carry a cross weighing more than 200 pounds three miles and up a steep hill where the candidate has to endure a brief but real crucifixion in which they are bound to the cross for about 20 minutes.

I feel that the way this story is written is such a way that it moves beyond racial and cultural differences in American literary depictions of indigenous peoples. At the end of the story, Rohter writes about the Roman Catholic Church’s attitude regarding the play and that since the event is put on by the local community, largely of indigenous descent, rather than the Church, the hierarchy has come to view the pageant as an effective tool for anchoring Mexican Catholics in their religion in the face of a growing Protestant challenge.

The fact that Rohter includes this information appears to be more educational than derogatory or stereotypical. The description of the community as primarily consisting of indigenous peoples and referring to them as “Mexican” Catholics makes me think that any stereotyping might come on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church.

Rohter writes a piece that discusses this community’s religious traditions and does not pay much attention to the fact that they are Mexican peoples or that the tradition itself of re-creating a live crucifixion might be perceived as controversial. Instead, he focuses on the tradition and profiles the community’s involvement in the Play, which attracts more than two million people annually. He talks to people who are involves in this year’s Play and some who have been involved in the past. The reader learns what type of preparation and dedication goes in to such an event.

For those who are not religious and who do not understand much regarding Jesus and the crucifixion, this article may be confusing for some. Rohter provides some background detail regarding the Play and when/how it started. However, information regarding certain biblical characters is not provided which may lead to some confusion (if you are not religious, what are the chances you will know who the high priest Caiaphas is?).

The story is informative to me in that I didn’t know such an event existed, nor did I know why it started and what it took to be a part of it. I find it really interesting the amount of dedication and personal sacrifice it takes to play the role of Jesus. Rohter used quotes from those who are participating and have participated in the Play and also profiled Diego Villagrán Villalobos, 18, the boy who would be playing Jesus for this year’s Play. Also, Rohter provides a lot of background data on how the Play formed and its history in Mexico.

April 6, 2009

Unemployment Rates Hit Highest Amount Since 1983

In the story “Jobless Rate Hits 8.5%,” by Sudeep Reddy that was printed in the Wall Street Journal, writes about the increasing rate of unemployment in America and how it is affecting the economy. He used numbers in three different ways: percents, relational values and straight figures.

Reddy uses straight figures to describe the number of jobs that have been lost since March (663,000) – a fact that is best described using this style. He uses percents to explain the change in jobless rates (8.5% up from 8.1%), and what changes these rates will see in the future as predicted by forecasters (surpass 10% later this year). Lastly, he uses relational values to describe values in the same paragraphs as other percentages, thus making it easier for readers to follow along (two-thirds of job cuts have occurred since November).

The numbers used in this story are not overwhelming because the writer limits the use of numbers per paragraph and uses different styles of numbers if there are more than two values in a paragraph (e.g., the use of relational values and percentages in one paragraph so it is easy to keep each topic description distinct from the next).

I feel that the reporter used numbers in a way that effectively added to the story. He did not use an excessive amount, but used numbers to highlight what they were meant to highlight – unemployment rates and comparisons, as well as future predictions and changes.

Reddy sources one of his number uses – the Labor Department. Other number uses appear to have come either from the same Labor Department report or from his personal analysis and research. Since this is the only source listed, and it is only listed once, this story might raise red flags for readers in terms of its correctness and credibility. I personally feel that Reddy uses numbers to enhance the story and that they sound realistic and are used appropriately, so I think that the numbers are most likely correct; however, a little more sourcing could have been beneficial.

March 30, 2009

Edward Anderson: a Big Man with a "Mini" Legacy

Entrepreneur Edward M. Anderson, inventor of the Lil’ Orbits automatic doughnut machine as well as an oil- and- water separator, died of cancer on Thursday at his home in Plymouth. He was 78.

As written by the Star Tribune, there are a few close friends and co-workers who are sourced throughout the obituary, and no family members (even though Anderson’s son, Charlie, is mentioned). Mike Foster, who was a business consultant for Anderson’s Plymouth-based firm, talks about Anderson’s contribution to the business world. Brian O’Gara, who was the Lil’ Orbits sales manager is also referenced. Lastly, Jane Nett, who is only referred to as a “neighbor,” is also sourced. It is not clear if Jane Nett was a life-long friend, companion or even lived next door to Anderson, as opposed to down the road.

The lead for Anderson’s obituary is an alternative – it begins by explaining something that Minnesotans consider a “quintessential” consumer product at the Minnesota State Fair, was invented by Anderson. The lead works because it provides an interesting anecdote (how many people know who invented the mini-doughnut machine?) that makes the reader want to keep reading to learn more about this creative man. Also, the second paragraph that talks about what Anderson enjoyed doing (tinkering in his garage) supports the alternative lead by further supporting the idea that this man was inventive and creative.

Also, the cause and date of death, as well as his age, isn’t referenced until the fourth paragraph, after a short introduction as to whom Anderson was and what he liked doing, as well as a quote from one of his business partners. This also works for this obituary because Anderson’s accomplishments are more news worthy and interesting than the cause of death and his age.

After the fourth paragraph, the obituary follows a traditional obituary structure, detailing more of Anderson’s “claims to fame,” followed by a chronology of his life. The obituary finishes with information about his family and details of the funeral service.

February 9, 2009

Victim Shot Twice, May be Drug-related: Police

In this story, which the Calgary Herald reported: Victim Shot Twice, May be Drug-related: Police, there are two sources used: the police and a specific police officer, Inspector Rob Williams. The only named source is Inspector Rob Williams; the “police? are referred to multiple times, but only as a collective entity. The victim of the story is not named or identified.

The news story is written up almost as if it is a report: the police are providing the bulk of the information, while Williams provides a few quotes on behalf of the City of Calgary Police Department.

It is not determined whether the information provided for the story by the police is from a report or the actual Department (issuing a release, for example). Information given by Williams is provided from his personal experience and expertise on the situation.

Each paragraph of the news story includes information provided by either the police or Williams, and each attribution is clearly stated (therefore the sources are named consistently throughout the story).

The reporter of the story sets up the attribution by stating at the beginning of each paragraph who is providing the information being reported: either the police or Williams. The only time the name of the source is not given at the start of a paragraph is when Williams gives a quote in the second paragraph.

Given that the story refers to two different sources, it is effective in that by saying who is providing the information for each paragraph, the reader is able to follow and understand the story much more easily.

February 2, 2009

Man Dies After Hours Alone on Frozen Lake

This lead from a Canadian newspaper, the Calgary Herald, reads: "A Winnipeg man died Saturday night after being alone on Lake Winnipeg ice for six hours before he was rescued."

The news elements that are at work in this story's lead are the WHO (a Winnipeg man), WHEN (Saturday night), WHERE (Lake Winnipeg), WHAT (he died after being alone on the ice for six hours before he was rescued). The WHY and HOW are both later explained in the rest of the story.

The detailed information in the lead include the WHEN and WHERE; instead of simply writing "Saturday," the writer wrote "Saturday night." This information could be considered general, however, since the exact time the emergency call was placed to the RCMP and the time at which the man was found on the ice are given later in the story. Also, the WHERE is detailed; instead of simply writing "in Winnipeg," "a lake in Winnipeg," "or on a lake," the writer describes what exact lake the man was discovered at.

The general information in the lead includes the WHO; the man's name is not given and it actually states at the end of the story that the family's name would not be released.

The WHAT could be considered both detailed and general, to a certain extent. The fact that the man died after being left alone for six hours on the ice describes the reason the story is being written in the first place. However, details described later in the story enhance the reader's understanding of what exactly happened. For example, the lead does not describe how the man had been riding with his two children when he had a "medical emergency" after the trio got lost on Lake Winnipeg. The reader learns why it took the RCMP six hours to locate the man (his children did not know where they got lost and therefore where their father was) and why he was on the ice (they had gone out snowmobiling). This information enhances the WHAT by bringing to light some of the WHY and the HOW. The information provided for the WHAT in the lead is therefore most likely general.

This lead works for this story in this particular paper, since most Canadians know where Lake Winnipeg is. The Calgary Herald is an Albertan newspaper and is in close proximity to the province of Manitoba, therefore assuming that the readers would be interested in learning about the death of an unknown man from Winnipeg. Also, the cold weather in Canada, particularly in the middle and eastern (and northern) provinces give this story a particular edge in terms of its interest rate; readers in Calgary (where the weather is often similar to that of Winnipeg) are probably going to be interested in the fact that a man froze to death after being left alone outside for six hours.