December 2, 2007


CBS released a report on Nov. 13 about their investigation that found a suicide “epidemic� among veterans. They discovered that veterans have a suicide rate twice that of other Americans. This required a great deal of work on their part to find the information they needed about rates, though, since their way no national study of the cumulative number of suicides in the U.S. They asked all 50 states for their suicide data for veterans and non-veterans, dating back to 1995. CBS received a “mountain of information� from forty-five states, and computer analysis programs had to be used to crunch the numbers. They didn't do it themselves, however; they had someone from who works with biostatistics run a "detailed analysis of the raw numbers" that CBS got from authorities for 2004 and 2005, from which they determined the suicide rates for veterans vs. non-vets. They also broke percentages into sub-groups such as ages.
At least some of this data likely came from Internet databases and documents decimated online. Analytical programs, which required basic computer usage skills on the part of reporters. It looks like they had the bulk of their data crunched by someone else, though.

November 11, 2007

On diversity

In the Arts section of the New York Times, an article about the CW network’s new comedy series “Aliens in America� discusses the significance of the main character’s cultural and religious identity as a Pakastani Muslim teenager transplanted to Wisconsin. The headline reads “Muslims on TV, No Terror in Sight� in a reference to the stereotype of Muslim-as-terrorist that exists in America. Because the article discusses a show that itself does not deal in stereotypical roles, the article manages to move beyond stereotypes – it even calls out the one major stereotype (Muslims as terrorists) in the headline. It discusses the effects of current events, which has lead to depictions of terroristic villains who praise Allah, mentioning the current television portrayals of Muslims (who “are shrouded in a web of terrorist plots and sinister motives�), the response the show has received (it’s “winning praise from advocacy groups and some critics for more rounded, lighthearted portrayals�),
The writer quotes a media critic, who says the show effectively uses comedy to “debunk myths about Muslims,� as well as a spokeswoman for the Muslim Public Affairs Council who worked as a consultant for the series who reviewed scripts for accuracy and sensitivity. Professors of mass communication were quoted in the article about the implications of stereotypical roles on television (Professor Hussain: “If you live somewhere where you may not know a Muslim, and the only images you get are on television, that’s problematic�). The creators of the show were also quoted about how they developed the idea for the show.
The article draws on actual events from episodes to substantiate certain points, especially how the show deals with heavy political issues and stereotypes with humor.
While Muslim voices and characters are often almost non-existent in mainstream American media (I wonder how many Muslims there are on the staff at the Times?), a show like this allows a major paper to discuss what television programing says about our views of “diverse� groups.
That’s a really good thing - not only for the people who watch the show but those who read the article and think about the stereotypes of the racial or ethnic “other� that play out on the small screen.

November 4, 2007

On numbers

In the Washington Post’s article on a recent poll of Americans that found them to be, according to the lead, “deeply pessimistic and eager for a change in direction,� numbers are key to proving the writer’s points. Poll results are represented as percentages (“24 percent think the nation is on the right track�), fractions (“three-quarters said they want the next president to chart a course that is different than that pursued by Bush�) and ratios (“almost seven in 10 see a recession as likely over the next year�). The varied usage of these three ways of expressing essentially the same statistic seem to be an attempt on the writer’s part to create a more varied story with less “drag.� The numbers, which take up much of the content of the story, don’t become overwhelming. The fact that numbers with relevant relationships are clustered together, making for good flow and easier digestion of the stats. There is not apparent sign of “number crunching� by the writer – the numbers from the poll offer a pretty straight-forward way of dealing with them. All the numbers came from the same source, that being a Washington Times-ABC News poll, with this source acknowledged straight-away in the lead. Further poll details are relegated to the last paragraph of the story, where the sampling amount and margin of sampling error are given. It seems to me that such important information should be given higher priority and placed higher in the story. On the Web article, you have to click to and read through the third page to find it. Shouldn’t we be told sooner how many people’s opinions the poll represents and the margin of error?

Washington Post:

October 28, 2007

On obituaries

The New York Times’ obituary for Luciano Pavarotti, published Sept. 7, 2007, was written in the traditional obituary style, with a lead that is pointed and effective. His cause of death is given in the second paragraph. His manager, who announced his death, acts as one source, with the writer also quoting other publications, such as Pavarotti’s interview with Opera News, a review from The New York Times of one of his operas and an article from Music Magazine. While Pavarotti’s obituary covers the basic highlights of his professional life, much like a resume, the writer treated his subject with more of a human touch. It seemed the writer had followed his subject’s career closely for many years and didn’t need to rely on many other sources. He recalled Pavarotti’s “disarming charm� during interviews. It was also interesting to me that writer included several of Pavarotti’s more uncomfortable and embarrassing recent career moments. He didn’t shy away from recalling Pavarotti’s low points, and I think this is especially important in notable public obituaries. Readers want to know (and should know) the many facets of public personas, whether these facets are flattering or not.

Pavarotti's obituary

October 21, 2007

On event coverage

The Star Tribune ran an Onstage story about the Orpheum’s second staging of “The Lion King.� The angle of the story relied on the numerous roadblocks that came up in producing a grandiose and internationally recognized production for the second time. In the article, the reporter gives several details about difficulties the production team faced along with quotes from the team involved to prove his points. Included in the quoted are an operations coordinator and technical director at the Orpheum, the technical director of “Lion King� and the president of the group that produces Minneapolis’ Broadway season. Instead of simply listing the who, what, where, and when, the reporter created a piece that both informs and interests the reader about the large amount of work put into the show by its creative and technical team. Numbers that detail the show’s popularity and impact in its first Minneapolis production in 1997 (a payroll of more than $1 million for involved workers, a direct economic impact of $11 million in Minneapolis) and in its run across the world (the show has been seen be more than 43 million people and has grossed $3 billion to date) give the story factual “oomph�. The reporter could have called the show “high-grossing� or “widely-seen,� but numbers like these say more than words could and give the story added interest and intrigue value.

The Star Tribune:

October 14, 2007

Press conference analysis

In the Pioneer Press' article covering the revealing of the new 35W bridge design at a press conference, the reporter incorporates richer details about the design than the press release gives. MnDot's press release focuses on primarily boasting of the merits of the project , praising the project firm hired for the project. The press release consists of many quotes from people involved with the new project, like Lt. Gov. and Mn/DOT Commisioner Carol Molnau and project managers and designers. Its main goal seems to be convincing Minnesotans that the best team possible was picked for the new bridge. The reporter chose to use the important details released in the report -- the firm's past construction projects and design details -- while adding more to the story. He mentions some of the controversy created by the firms who unsuccesfully bid on the bridge, which the release doesn't address. The details of the design are also more clearly described by the reporter, who probably compiled information from multiple sources.

October 7, 2007

On first day/follow story

A Friday Star Tribune article outlined the guilty verdict of a federal jury for a Brainerd woman, Jammie Thomas, for violating the copyrights of recording companies when she allegedly illegally downloaded music. The lead was definitely constructed as hard-news – it had a detailed account of who, what, where, and when. The story that followed in the Star Tribune on Sunday references the woman’s plight in the lead but also hints at the bigger picture, saying, “The music industry may have won a symbolic battle with a Duluth jury’s $222,000 judgement against Jammie Thomas of Brainerd, Minn., but it has lost the war against music piracy, according to industry analysts, copyright lawyers and information technology experts.� This second story advances the news by offering a greater amount of context to the issue on a larger scale. Saturday’s story goes on to mention different music-sharing services and what they consist of as well as commentary from experts within the music and technology industries. The reporters also interviewed young college students, placing their comments within the story as well to add perspectives from the larger community.
The story has a couple of comments from an interview Thomas and gives more background on her – her career, family life and her salary. It also contains a block of text detailing a sample of the songs whose copyrights she was found by the jury to have violated.
The additional information on the second-day story fleshes out not only the readers knowledge of Thomas but of the greater meaning of the guilty verdict and its impact on the public and the music industry.

September 30, 2007

On Structures

In The Associated Press article on the sixth U.S. death this year from a brain-eating amoeba, the story is not told in the style of a hard-news story. The lead sentence creates an interesting scene, mentioning a 14-year-old boy asking his dad if he was going to die after he came down with a headache that wouldn’t go away. With the next anecdote, in which his dad says, “And here I am: I come home and I’m burying him,�the reader is effectively sucked in to reading further. The reporter goes on to answer the “what,� detailing what it was that was bothering the boy. The greater scope of the problem is brought up next, transitioning to the larger issue of the rise in cases of this amoeba. Many of the known details are then fleshed out: where the known cases have been, where the amoeba comes from, what it does to its victims, how to avoid it, and what’s being done to deal with it. The reporter then returns to the focused story that was introduced in the lead involving the 14-year-old boy, ending with sad anecdotes from his father. This part is told in chronological order, detailing the events that unfolded from the time that the boy went swimming to when doctors figured out he had been infected with Naegleria.
This story could have been written differently, with the side story of the boy told in chronological order after (or before) discussion of the larger issue, but this seemed to be the most effective way in which to relay the message. By starting out with the sudden death of the boy, the reader’s interest is piqued. A father and family lost their son and brother to a hidden evil. We want to find out what that evil is, how to avoid it, and why so many have been affected. And by the end, when we already know that the boy was killed by Naegleria, the events can effectively be told in chronological order. We know what’s coming, and so the suspicion continues to build until the heartbreaking end quotes from a grieving father.

September 23, 2007


In the Pioneer Press' story on the man who ripped the head off a duck at a St. Paul hotel, the only sources were a police report and the statements of a police sergeant and hotel manager. Since the incident happened just hours before the story was written, the number of possible sources was limited due to time constraints. The incident is explained according to what the police report said. After this section, a police sergeant is named and quoted. A quote is also given from an assistant manager at the hotel where the incident took place, although their name is not given.
The information is attributed at the end of the sentences, which is an effective way of doing so. The reader reads the most pertinent information first, while the attribution assures us of the sources.

September 16, 2007

On leads

Says the Pioneer Press' lead on a recent shooting incident in the Target Center, "Minneapolis police are looking for a man who allegedly fired a handgun at another spectator in the Target Center stands Saturday night as thousands watched a mixed-martial arts competition." This is an example of a hard-news lead, giving the reader the vital information immediately while grabbing the reader's attention. From this lead, the reader learns the what (a shooting), who (involved are a male suspect, a spectator victim, Minneapolis police and the thousands of other spectators), where (the stands of the Target Center, a major events arena in our area), and when (late Saturday during a competition), A large amount of detail is given in the lead, although the "why" is left out. The vagueness of saying "another spectator" creates a sense of alarm in the reader who wants to know if the victim was a random spectator or if there was a relationship between suspect and victim.