November 25, 2007

Suspects re-arrested in Holloway's disappearance

Three men initially arrested after American high school student Natalee Holloway went missing in Aruba in May 2005 have been taken into custody again by Aruban authorities. Now, officials say there is enough evidence to prove Holloway is no longer alive, and that these men are responsible. The case was heavily followed by the media, and has remained a top headline-maker since Holloway disappeared. Again, the arrests have become a top story, and the public is anxious to see what the new evidence is. In a piece from NBC's Today, the story was reported largely from the angle of Joran van der Sloot's attorney. Van der Sloot is the main suspect in Holloway's alleged death, and is charged with involuntary manslaughter -- consistent with accidental, unintentional death -- a point which his legal counsel emphasized. Uniquely, this piece described in greater detail the legal processes and standards of Aruba, where any criminal proceedings would take place, providing a valuable context for the reader now and as the case progresses. In a CNN piece, reporters focused more heavily on case background and the arrest developments. Instead of focusing on the typical "he-said, she-said" nature of cases like this, the story's central aim is to eduate readers about what type of evidence the new arrest-spurring material is likely comprised of. Each story took a twist on the traditional newsy-type angle of this often-sensationalized story, which helped lend credence to its importance in being covered, as opposed to overdoing it, as has been done with this case and others similar to it in the past.

Rock star's home lost in Malibu blaze

Numerous outlets over the weekend covered the resurge of wildfires in the Malibu area of California, but many also focused on one specific loss: that of a Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist's home. Flea, the well-known rocker, lost his multimillion-dollar estate in the fire, and the Los Angeles Times even focused a brief article solely on that material casualty of the fires. In a CNN piece on the fire's upsurge and continual damage, the loss of Flea's home was focused on anecdotally amid hard news reports, including statements from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and other officials. It seems out of place to have one story of one famous person's house burning in a widespread wildfire. Losses are as yet innumerable, as the fires still rage. The focus on this particular loss was a bit excessive, since it wasn't the only home "burnt to a crisp," as Flea said in a text message to a Los Angeles Times reporter.

November 19, 2007

University of Minnesota-Mankato accident victimes identified

As reported both in the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press, two women returning from a sorority-sponsored night out were struck early Sunday morning by a 17-year-old driver, killing one and "severely" injuring the other. The Star Tribune reported the story as it if was working off an official press release, whereas the Pioneer Press version seemed to offer a more concrete sequence of events, with less left open for debate -- perhaps the Pioneer Press was able to establish contact with officials in the area, and that definitely strengthened the story. The Star Tribune story, it seemed in an effort to make its story more comprehensive, tied the incident back to one less than a month ago in which another student, a woman celebrating her 21st birthday, essentially drank herself to death. The two death in less than a month touching the same campus seems to be the angle the Star Tribune has chosen to take with the story, whereas the Pioneer Press is buying into the newsier approach of straight facts about the incident, at least at this point.

November 18, 2007

Rhodes Scholars selected from large national pool

As reported by the Associated Press and the Star Tribune, awardees were selected for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarships for graduate studies at Oxford University in England. The AP story did a sort of overview of some of the most notable or interesting winners, but it was somewhat localized to Chicago, the AP bureau the story was datelined as. The Star Tribune article focused almost entirely on the two winners from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., which boasted its eighth and ninth receipients of the scholarship, which honors outstanding academic and personal achievement. Naturally, the Minnesota paper's story would focus on local winners, but it also seemed to give a more extensive background of the Rhodes Scholarship, something lacking in the AP story, which was essentially several brief, disjointed blurb-type profiles of the award winners. Despite its localization, the Star Tribune article was unexpectedly much more informative and exhaustive.

German school rampage thwarted

In Koeln, Germany, two high-school students were apparently planning to kill many at their school before turning weapons on themselves, both CNN and MSNBC (via the Associated Press) reported. CNN reported the story much more conservatively, attributing nearly everything to German outlets or investigators, whereas the MSNBC/AP story was more detailed, graphic and liberal in its presentation of the so-called "facts." CNN is likely more conservatively reported because its writer pulled together information from other outlets and liaisons in Germany, rather than using its own resources and clout to get exact information straight from the horse's -- or official's -- mouth, like the AP is recognized for doing.

November 11, 2007

One dead, one injured in Minneapolis shooting

After an afternoon barbeque over the weekend, one man is dead and another injured in what is an apparent drive-by shooting. The Minneapolis paper, due to its primary coverage area of Minneapolis, covered the story much more extensively than did its St. Paul counterpart. There was a full article, complete with witness-reported details and numerous sources and information -- including that evidence that could help nab the killer(s) may exist. Conversely, due to its relative remoteness from the site, the Pioneer Press reported in an ultra-succinct way that there had been a shooting, leaving one dead and one injured. Aside from coverage area though, the Minneapolis paper has a definite advantage when it comes to covering its city's crimes in that its cops beat reporter likely has contacts within the police department, as well as a familiarity with the area. This sense of community between the reporter and the area in which the shooting took place allows the reporter to get more information from witnesses and police alike, thus spurring a deep, thoroughly covered story.

Arrest made in St. Paul rape case

Due to the high-profile nature of the rape of a teenage girl in her own home, both local papers granted coverage to the arrest of a suspect. The difference between the two, though, lies in the choice of the Pioneer Press to name the alleged rapist and the Star Tribune's choice to refer to the man only as "the suspect." Based on past knowledge and experience in dealing with these newspapers' policies regarding naming suspects, I know that news-organization policies governed each of these stories. It is the policy of the Star Tribune to not name suspects before definite charges are filed. As of the time of story posting, the man had only been arrested "on suspicion" of being involved. Police said they released arrest information due to the high-profile and "horrific" nature of the case, but that doesn't necessarily warrant the editorial freedom of naming the suspect, though the major Twin Cities newspapers appear to disagree on that point.

November 4, 2007

Homeless man dies in fall from St. Paul bluff

A homeless man was found dead beneath a 60-foot bluff, apparently due to an accidental fall Sunday by homeless outreach volunteers. In both the Minneapolis and St. Paul papers, briefs were written with the so-called "bare bones" of the case. Each includes the man's homeless status, the fact that he fell and where his body was found by whom. There is brief, mostly paraphrased police comment stating there is no suspicion of foul play, but it might be different if the man wasn't homeless. It seems less prominence is given to the story than if the man was, say, a businessman or a recognized community member. The fact that such a story received buried placement and apparently a minimal amount of investigation by reporting, in a sense, dehumanizes the man who died as well as the homeless in general. While it may be more difficult to obtain information about a homeless man than one who wasn't, it seems like the story should garner more attention than it did. Accidental deaths occur often, and typically we hear of them, or at least have a chance to do so when they're given relatively high placement in the news.

Minneapolis murder victim identified

According to both the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press, 21-year-old Andrew Nakao, of Minneapolis, was fatally shot in the chest. There was a distinct disparity in coverage allocated to the event, though, likely based on primary coverage areas of the paper. The shooting, which occured in Minneapolis' Folwell neighborhood, was granted much more prominence with a disporportianately greater amount of information. For instance, that article offered reasoning behind Nakao's death -- that he allegedly confronted his younger brother's bullies and they later shot him. The Pioneer Press merely stated his identity and cause of death, without offering any explanation or context. Again, this difference is likely due to the Star Tribune's primary coverage area of Minneapolis, although by not offering any further information, the Pioneer Press story does little to mollify concerns or address a larger problem that may or may not be present.

October 28, 2007

Developments slow in case of Craigslist slaying; local papers continue coverage differently

As police remain tight-lipped about the investigation into the death of Katherine Ann Olson, a woman seeking a nannying job who was later found dead in the trunk of her car, both local papers have mobilized several reporters on the story -- and have taken very different approaches to keep the public in the know, and interested, in the case. For the St. Paul paper, the better approach seemed to be a story that was easier for readers to relate to, one about safety on Craigslist that readers could apply to themselves. A trend-safety story is a more contextual approach to covering the homicide, in a sense deepening the coverage, meaning and scope of the underlying story. On the other hand, the Star Tribune has taken the approach of offering readers a constant flow of information. Its follow up story focuses on police remaining quiet about specific details of the case, especially the alleged perpetrator. The reporter spoke with a friend of the suspect who could attest to his character, painting a much clearer picture of the case in general instead of offering broader context. It seems the Minneapolis paper is maintaining a tighter focus on the hardest news, whereas the Pioneer Press is working to broaden the affects of the story in attempts to have readers relate to it, a technique that is always captivating. In each case, readers are drawn in. Which is the safest move in terms of securing readers is unclear, but also may be irrelevant. With shocking, higher-profile cases such as this homicide, readers will likely turn to multiple news outlets to deepen understanding and consume more information on their own.

First lady claims victory in Argentina

Interestingly, in two different Associated Press reports written by the same AP writer, different information is conveyed about Argentina's new leader. In the piece run by the Pioneer Press, writer Bill Cormier writes succinctly about the most notable political accomplishments of the newest world leader's life, mostly in chronological order. In the second piece, found on AP-laden Yahoo! News, Cormier's work is vastly elaborated upon, with ties to U.S. government officials, such as Hillary Clinton. Since the Pioneer Press is not necessarily meant to cover such things, a more brief version of the story might have been the more appropriate approach; certainly a piece as long as Cormier's second wouldn't run in the print issue unless there was a major snafu with assessing available space for stories. But for Yahoo! News, an outlet many look to for relatively in-depth and informative news of the world, the lengthier piece fit right in. The disparity between local news outlets and general news outlets is apparent in this case, and also understandable.

Controversial mascot OK for U.Illinois homecoming

In developments relating to a longstanding battle between American Indian activists and University of Illinois officials, a tentative standard has been set for the display of the school's controversial mascot, Chief Illiniwek. The Pioneer Press ran an Associated Press report on the situation, in which school officials overturned a ban on the mascot, thereby allowing his picture to be prominently shown on floats in the homecoming parade Friday. Similarly, the News-Gazette, publication of the Champagne, Ill., area, covered the story but in greater depth. The AP story was picked up by outlets across the world (as far away as the United Kingdom), showing this story is of interest and worth to many. But the fact that the local story is able to go in much greater depth is a testament to beat reporting. Because the News-Gazette reporter has likely been covering the scandal for a lengthy period of time, and has had ample opportunity to assert herself, she is likely a more familiar face than an AP reporter who swoops in when scandal strikes. Due to this familiarity and already-established rapport with sources, the News-Gazette is able to get a more thorough and interesting story that answers more questions than does the AP piece. And so it should be -- the general audience of the News-Gazette is likely far more invested in the story than the AP audience in London.

Online ad leads to slaying

Over the weekend, both the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune handled breaking news relating to the discovery of a Minneapolis woman, dead in the trunk of her car in a Burnsville park. After following both sites' content closely, it's fairly easy to see what is prioritized for each paper and how efficiently reporters were able to post it to the site. Katherine Ann Olson was found late Friday, and full stories weren't available until today. At first, the Pioneer Press had more comprehensive information, in terms of specific details relating to the discovery of the body. But mere hours later, the Star Tribune posted a very thorough story, in which multiple family members were interviewed and gave insight on Olson's life. Each outlet followed an inverted-pyramid structure, with stories starting out as point-by-point accounts of the homicide and body discovery, according to police. Then, they transition smoothly into characterizations of the victim per her family and friends.

Additionally, the Star Tribune piece offered hyperlinks to Web sites, like Facebook.com and Craigslist.org, that are mentioned in the story. This raises ethical questions about whether news sites should offer links -- considered by some to be free advertising -- in stories. A hot debate in the tech-centric era we live in, the use of hyperlinks is deeply contested by some in journalism and strongly supported as a tool of thoroughness in reporting by others.

October 8, 2007

Diana inquest jury visits site of Paris crash

An inquest jury looking into the specific cause of Princess Diana's 1996 death visited the site of her death in Paris this week. The group is touring sites relevant to the investigation, which aims to place blame for the deaths of Diana and her companion, Dodi Fayed. The Associated Press article focuses centrally on the conspiracy theories behind Diana's death, including that the driver of Diana's Mercedes was intoxicated and tipped off paparazzi that Diana and her boyfriend -- supposedly her fiancee as of that night, according to Fayed's millionaire father -- were leaving. Some sources attribute the crash to the photographers' aggressive pursuit of the pair. The Reuters piece focuses mostly on the inquest and inquest procedure, spending little time detailing the possible what-ifs and the sensational speculation many have expressed since the incident. Each article has a certain newsworthiness and a certain appeal, though the Associated Press' attention to details surrounding Diana's actual death is likely more compelling than the Reuters piece centrally about the legal proceedings of the jury. The sensational nature of a princess dying in the way Diana did is compelling in itself, and conspiracy surrounding such a surprising death adds to the mystique. Undoubtedly, this story extends beyond the realm of celebrity news, though it is undeniable that its main appeal is its glamour and star quality.

City Council approves plans for new 35W bridge

Shortly after the Minneapolis City Council approved plans for a new Interstate 35W bridge and its funding, both the Pioneer Press and Minnesota Public Radio issued briefs detailing the so-called "bare bones" of the agreement. Each piece offered readers and listeners the most pertinent information, including the unanimous rate of approval among council members as well as the top priorities and concerns taken into consideration when council members evaluated the plan. The Pioneer Press coverage was significantly shorter and more to-the-point, whereas the MPR coverage had quoted sources in addition to the most basic, unattributed information. Typically, for radio coverage, sound bytes are necessary to make a story compelling and worthwhile -- which accounts for the quotes in the text-only online version of MPR's story. The Pioneer Press is relied upon for in-depth coverage, but generally newspaper readers are satisfied with the most interesting and necessary information that isn't necessarily colored with the human element offered by radio.