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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.

Eastern Europeans take Twin Cities Marathon titles

The Star Tribune and Pioneer Press each generated original coverage of the Twin Cities-based event Sunday. Neither publication used contributing sources, likely due to the proximity of the papers' coverage areas to the marathon. The Star Tribune placed the story at the bottom of its homepage, whereas the declaration of a Ukrainian man as winner was the top-listed story on the Pioneer Press Web site. The top story for the Star Tribune, describing a Wisconsin shooting rampage that left six dead, demonstrates the newspaper's priority to choose hard news at the expense of local news for its top spot. The Pioneer Press, on the other hand, selected a local, original story as its featured piece, showing that newspaper's commitment to localized coverage and the Twin Cities area.

Wisc. law enforcement officer kills 6

In both the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press coverage of the off-duty deputy's shooting rampage, the community-devastation angle is played up. Each piece focuses on the shock of the tight-knit small town in which the shooting rampage took place, focusing less on the details of the crime and more on the seemingly lasting impacts for the families and friends of the victims and shooter. Each piece characterizes Crandon, Wisc., as a place where "everyone is related" and familiarity with neighbors is commonplace and expected. Typical crime coverage highlights the sometimes-gory facts of the case, but it seems under more suprising, unusual or tragic circumstances, the broader picture is the focus of news coverage. Each piece bills the community as devastated, the act as a tragedy. Instead of painting the shooter as a callous psychopath, each piece was written with careful attention to the victims, who are delicately described and identified in a positive light. Statements from slain men and women's parents are perhaps the most powerful parts of the stories, and the most emotion-evoking journalists can ever hope to find in the face of unexpected loss.