November 25, 2007

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 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.

October 28, 2007

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.

October 8, 2007

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.

September 10, 2007

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.

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