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September 30, 2007

Scoreboards, play-by-plays and analysis keep fans in the game

With the Green Bay Packers gracing the Metrodome today to face their most hated rival, the Minnesota Vikings, fans on both sides of the border are buzzing. Adding to the intensity of Sunday's matchup, Packers quarterback Brett Favre was on the brink of clinching the all-time touchdown pass record. With so much enthusiasm and interest generated by today's game, both Twin Cities newspapers took to the 'net in attempts to establish themselves as the go-to sites for up-to-the-minute game updates. In a world where sports coverage is among the most read and the Internet has emerged as a chief provider of news content, previously sought-after newspapers have been offered a chance to compete with live broadcasters. The Star Tribune offers a link on its homepage to a special Vikings report, complete with a scoreboard, lists of plays made thus far in the game and a brief news story about the larger context of the game -- Favre's new pass record. The Pioneer Press has similiar features on its Web site this Sunday, but assigns the Vikings even more prominence than its cross-river rival. The homepage of the Pioneer Press has a scoreboard, and Favre's record leads the story slideshow at the top of the page. The role of the Internet in news coverage is continually evolving, but in sports coverage, newspapers' Web sites have become competitive with the Web sites of the sports teams themselves -- and more notably, with television and radio coverage. Now, when the latter are not accessible, the news sites offer as good an understanding of the game's events and probably outcomes, analysis and play-by-play. This adaptation to the general readership's interest has helped newspapers transition to the World Wide Web of sports, but still maintain is long-standing role as the day-after commentator for those who choose to purchase the paper Monday mornings.

Minnesota smoking ban begins Monday

Both the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Minneapolis Star Tribune chose to run an Associated Press story serving as a sort of readers' guide to the statewide smoking ban, set to begin Oct. 1. There were a few unique facets of this story and its placement, namely that it was written in a question-and-answer format, and also that both major local papers opted to run this AP story instead of conducting its own coverage on this local event. First, the story's format lends itself to readers -- a fact that possibly has to do with why both papers selected this story instead of writing straight original news stories themselves. The story detailed where the smoking ban will be in effect, when, why and how readers might need to change habits and routines in order to comply with the new anti-tobacco regulations. Each outlet has covered the smoking ban from a "he said, she said" issue standpoint since talks began in Legislature, so this AP story served as a bit of a lighter departure from typical coverage. Still, though, it is interesting that neither paper organized a similar story itself. Perhaps original coverage of the ban is reserved for later in the week, in the form of reaction pieces after the ban is underway.

September 23, 2007

Girl, 12, shot in the head in N. Minneapolis

When a 12-year-old girl is killed by a gunshot wound to the head in virtually her own backyard, news is undeniably made. Saturday night, just this happened on Minneapolis' North side. For both Twin Cities papers, coverage was as intensive as could be expected, but with different focuses. The Pioneer Press, representing St. Paul, covered the incident from a mostly anecdotal angle -- telling what happened, offering witness accounts and a synopsis of the investigation as it currently stands. The Minneapolis-based Star Tribune, for which the girl's death hit closer to home due to its main coverage area, provided a trend story in the context of the shooting. The story discussed violence in the area, specifically that of North side youth. The story offers an in-depth analysis for readers, some of whom may live in said area. Because of the central coverage areas, the stories differed slightly, but each story was given relatively great prominence in both the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune.

Torii's final farewell?

In both the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press coverage of the Minnesota Twins, Torii Hunter's impending free agency has been highly covered as the Twins' season comes to a close. For Twins fans, the season's end could also mark the end of what has been a nine-year mainstay: Torii Hunter in center field. Interestingly, in sports coverage, bias is somewhat accepted and encouraged. Likely, readers of the sports sections of the two local papers are also fans of local teams -- including the Twins. For papers to lament the loss of Hunter, as both of these do, could be construed as disproportionate coverage, but also could be seen as coverage proportional to the reader demographic. In hard, conventional news, the reader's opinion should be acknowledged but not used to gauge the presentation of news. In sports, though, it seems to be part of the industry to be a "homer" and root, root, root for the home team, so to speak. Whether this is right or wrong by journalistic standards is up for debate, but one thing is certain: fans will be sad to see Hunter go, and undoubtedly they read these stories with that in mind, validated by each of the newspapers.

September 10, 2007

Focus shifts to parents in Madeleine McCann disappearance

In Britain's Daily Mail newspaper, the report about the highly covered Madeleine McCann disappearance included previously reported material cited as being from various Portuguese newspapers. As long as the already-reported information is cited and properly attributed, it strengthens the Daily Mail's individualized story. Without the content from the Portuguese newspapers, the story from the Daily Mail wouldn't be as compelling. Similarly, the British newspaper's original reporting enhanced the story because it became more localized and meaningful to the Daily Mail's target audience -- not to mention more thorough and more informative and content-filled. The reporting was remarkably unbiased, considering the high-profile nature of this case, which has drawn international coverage and has propelled Madeleine McCann and her now-accused parents, Gerry and Kate, celebrity status.

In the brief piece in the Belfast Telegraph centering on the naming of the McCann parents as suspects, the reporter succinctly and subtly seems to back the parents despite Portuguese police's serious allegations of their responsibility for their four-year-old daughter's murder. The article is one-sided, talking only of the parents' frustration and exasperation at being the focus of what has essentially become a disappearance-turned-abduction-turned-murder investigation. This is relatively obvious, and would be more noteworthy if they expressed disinterest at being named suspects. Moreover, the charges are not discussed in detail, thereby minimizing them and reducing the side of the police in favor of the McCanns. -- UK Daily Mail -- UK Belfast Telegraph

Sen. Craig counsel says journalist pressure led to false guilty plea

In this news story, the inverted pyramid style of news writing was effectively used to include the most important content at the beginning of the piece, followed by content that merited its placement proportionally lower in the story. The use of words like "admitted" in reference to Craig -- whose representation has already publicly blamed journalists for a false guilty plea -- jeopardize the integrity of the story. "Admitted" is not an unbiased or balanced word; its connotation is one of expressed guilt. It's dangerous for journalists to use such words, especially when journalists have been put in a negative light by the articles primary sources. The Associated Press used the word in its story.

In the New York Times story, a more investigative approach is employed in the coverage of allegations against Sen. Craig, which adds a sense of fairness and thoroughness to the reporting done for the piece. The New York Times conducted its own investigation on "lewd conduct" in the Minneapolis-St. Paul international airport, and used documentation -- often seen as the most reliable, unchanging and not easily misunderstood source of information -- to compare the handling of the Craig investigation and subsequent charges to other cases in which men have been cited for inappropriate conduct in the airport's men's restrooms. Worded in a fair manner, the article protects the integrity of the piece, the journalist who wrote it and The New York Times, considering Craig's counsel has pitted his client and his case against working investigative journalists. -- Associated Press via Minneapolis Star Tribune -- The New York Times