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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 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.

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

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.

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.