Archive for September, 2008

Journalistic Analysis 4: Deadline Writing


That Was the Desk I Chose to Die Under
Washington Post
David Maraniss

This piece was a part of a collection of articles in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings. This particular piece chronicles in detail the day of the shooting through the eyes of students directly involved, from the shooter’s roommate to survivors of the classes shot at. Maraniss uses compelling language to vividly tell a story that was being told across the country at news organization simultaneously. By telling the story through characters, this piece stands out and gives a more emotionally effecting account of what happened.
Maraniss goes through the day in an account of the events, but breaks up the tragedy and tells it through the eyes of students. This allows for a more in depth detail and scene setting. The imagery used, the pacing, and the tone emotionally invests the reader, bring the reader into the tragedy because they are watching it unfold as it actually happened.
The choice of storytelling quotes also provides great impact, such as the one used for the headline, “That was the desk I chose to die under.” He chose to quote students’ thoughts, adding to the in the moment feeling, which ultimately sets this piece apart in terms of reporting this breaking news event.

Tragedy on Ice
O’Ryan Johnson and Chris Markuns

This piece covers the drowning of four boys in Lawrence, MA. in the Merrimack River. The article chronicles the series of events and describes what happened in detail, but uses two young boys who were friends to the victims and witnesses to the event in order to do so. The authors let the young boys tell the story, using direct quotes that give off a child’s voice and way of speaking. This provides the emotional aspect to the piece by emphasizing that innocent children were involved in an innocent event turned tragic.
The authors don’t use incredibly descriptive language or imagery, instead opting for straight forward and explanatory wording. In this case, blunt wording and explanations are more effecting and appropriate. The piece involves children, so the emotional factor is built in and intensified when you have children telling the story as well. Bluntly describing the thickness of the ice and conditions of the river is also just as effecting.  The key to this is knowing that the story had to be emotionally effecting and the most appropriate way to accomplish that.

The Reaction: Tense Scenes Played Out on Miami Streets
Miami Herald
Sandra Marquez Garcia, Tyler Bridges, Curtis Morgan

This article gauges the reactions of residents in Little Havana after a federal SWAT team seized Elian Gonzalez, painting a picture of the outraged temperament of the neighborhood.
The authors use descriptive words to create images of the riots, creating an image of complete chaos. “Demonstrators, outraged at the seizure of Elian Gonzalez by a gun-toting federal SWAT team, shouted, wept, waved flags and signs and — in isolated angrier outbreaks — blocked traffic, threw rocks, overturned bus benches and torched tires and trash bins.” The descriptor “gun-toting” paints the SWAT as an enemy already overpowering an innocent victim in juxtaposition to the child, creating a reason for the outrage in the eyes of the neighborhood.
The authors also use quotes that give a feel of the outrage to the piece, such as the words shouted by the protestors. This is also in sharp contrast to the more articulate, disproving words of officials interview, showing the disparity between government/authority and the common man.

On the Road, a Family Vanishes
The Oregonian
David Austin and Mike Larabee

This article is the first in a series of articles covering the disappearance of the Kim family in south Oregon. The article is written very informatively, as this was written towards the beginning of the search for the family. The authors are careful to detail the known plans of the family and what was already done by the police in the search as in this type of situation, the information is the most important part.
The piece is broken into subheads, which breaks the information into smaller pieces and allows the piece to easily look at different aspects to the story, from the general overview, to the family’s search, to the problems the authorities have run into. The quotes used not only give the emotional insight that gives the reader an attachment, they also give pertinent information.

Catastrophic: Storm surge swamps 9th ward, St. Bernard
The Times-Picayune
Bruce Noland

This piece is part of a series of articles covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.  The story goes nine paragraphs before the author mentions a single person or uses a single quote, relying instead on heavy description of the destruction. It details the events through a factual encounter of imagery and symbolizes the speechlessness of the New Orleans citizens.
When the author did use quotations, one of the most striking was from the City Council president, a position of authority at a loss for words and speaking colloquially, showing the emotional devastation: “Look, look man, it’s gone. It’s gone.”

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Gas Shortage in NC

Gas Shortage Draws Effect on Local Cultural Celebration

By Christina Edwards

September 29, 2008

Asheville, N.C.—For the last weekend in September every year, Martin Luther King Jr. Park functions as a Greek isle. The traditional music can be heard from blocks away, while the smell of lamb gyros and Greek pastries reach just as far.

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church held it’s 22nd annual Greek Festival September 26-28, but this year, in the wake of a gas shortage that has had Western North Carolina in hours long lines at the pump, crowds were significantly smaller.

“I’d say the gas problem has put us down to 30, 40 percent of the profit,” said Tommy Arakas, parish council member at Holy Trinity. “I think because of the economic situation, people are leary of spending money. This is a treat for them, so it gets cut out.”

Fuel supply to the western region of the state has been low for the past two weeks, culminating in empty gas stations this week.

Church members said this year’s festival ranked especially low in comparison to last year, which was the second best turn of profit in the festival’s history.

“It rained Friday, so that was a complete wash out, but yesterday was a nice day, today’s a nice day, and we’re still down,” said Dino Zourzoukis, also a parish council member.

Despite the travel issues, Arakas said volunteer participation was not affected by the crisis, and there was never any question that the festival would be held this weekend.

“We were going to do it no matter what,” said Arakas. “We were going to be here.”

An Asheville gas station, out of regular fuel.

An Asheville gas station, out of regular fuel.

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Citizens express skepticism over proposed bailout of financial firms

Citizens express skepticism over proposed bailout of financial firms
By Christina Edwards
September 24, 2008

In the face of a national financial crisis, chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke’s proposed plan for a $700 billion bailout for U.S. financial firms is doing little to assuage worries in Burlington, N.C.

“I think there are good points and bad points to the plan, but I hope it does help the economy. We’re the ones who have to bear the burden,” said Sonja Hopkins, who works at the Kangaroo Express station near Elon University. “I just think we need to be a little more careful on who we lend money to.”

Legislation for the plan is expected to come to the House and Senate floors sometime this week. Democratic Congress leaders Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker, and Harry Reid, Senate majority leader, plan to meet with others to form a proposed strategy.

The proposed bailout, if approved, will equal $2,333 for every American. Democrats have raised concerns that the plan comes at the expense of the middle and lower class tax-payers in benefit of large corporations.

“There is no more middle class,” said Glenda Roberson, waitress at Skids Restaurant. “I think the world is in bad shape, and it’s going to take more than a new President to fix it.”

Roberson and a customer expressed concern over the U.S. financial state in relation to other countries, fearing for the economy stability of the nation.

“Look at everything you buy, where’s it from? China,” said Shirl Walsh, Burlington resident. “I’m almost surprised China’s not buying out these firms.”

The FBI is currently investigating 26 firms in the financial collapse. The crisis combines with an already weak economy where many in the struggle to for gas and groceries. Bernanke and members of the Bush Administration are pushing for an acceptance of the bailout this week for restoration in the economy.

“We can go to war, but nothing happens. Look at how much money we’re spending over there. Why can’t we stay here and spend that money here? We should be taken care of people in our own country instead staying over there and killing people,” said Roberson.

“You just get so disgusted you can’t even eat. I have to turn the news off because I get so disgusted,” said Walsh.

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Journalistic Analysis 3: Local/Beat Reporting


The Occasional Kindness of Strangers
New York Times
Daniela Gerson

This piece is a first person situational narrative: the author had collapsed on a crowded subway in New York City and chose to write about the group of people on the train that stopped to help her, despite the apparent impossibility of getting medical help to arrive. The piece provides a look into something that defies the stereotype of the cold, unfriendly New Yorker and highlights the unexpected kindness of strangers while still keeping a very New York, local feel to the tone in the style.
The author interjects a specific “typical New York” tone into the piece which counteracts with the kindness of strangers. She talks of  subway etiquette, calling it “distasteful to eat on the subway” and noting that the woman who first helped her broke the “first rule of subway travel: No contact with strangers.”
I initially found this story intriguing because it was not about a major event, it did not profile a specific person to highlight something important or even quirkily interesting; it focused instead on a look at citizens in an ordinary crisis. It is not the most newsworthy of topics, but it gives insight.

Where is Rocky Raccoon?
New York Times
Nicholas Phillips

This piece focuses on a wild raccoon problem on the north end of Central Park, looking at the disturbance they are causing in the New York nightlife and the controversy caused between those who find the animals a nuisance and those who don’t mind them. While the topic may not be breaking, front page news, the story is relevant to the citizens living in the area. The article also paints a picture of the neighborhood by the residents interviewed.
What is especially striking about this piece are the storytelling quotations used. The dialect and word choice in the quotations create a tone to the piece as well as lending to the overall picture of the neighborhood. The piece quotes a fair amount, which shows the gravity of the raccoon situation to the citizens, such as here: “I don’t know what to do, they’re big like a dog.” The writer also uses descriptors to give a physical description of the people he interviews, letting the reader know that this is who lives here, this is their environment.
The author also creates conflict by showcasing conflicting points of view; amongst the people who find the raccoons to be a problem, there are those who not only don’t mind, but have grown accustomed to and even like the raccoon. This is specifically evident in the man who named the raccoons. By covering this story with vivid quotations, details, and conflicting view points, the author creates a layered conflict in what doesn’t seem like much of a story.

Covering Sarah Palin Campaign from the Nome Front
LA Times
Steve Lopez

This article takes a spin on all of the Sarah Palin coverage and national attention on Alaska, which so far has focused on the vice presidential candidates hometown of Wasilia, by focus on the “real” Alaska, going out far west to Nome, Alaska. The article takes a look at citizens who haven’t been living amongst Palin to get their take on the vice presidential pick. This piece talks to democratic Alaskans and Palin supporters, as well as a few who just aren’t interested in talking politics, showing that Alaska is just as diverse as the rest of the US and bringing a sense of normalcy where there’s been national attention and sensation.
The author writes the piece in first person, chronicling his time in Nome as a clear outsider, give a feel to the article as a peek into a different society. This is a smooth contrast to the normalcy presented by the town. Lopez repeatedly mentions things that weren’t what he expected, from the visibility of Russia to the presence of liberal media. He says he unexpectedly liked the small town. Things quoted in the article, such “we’ve had so long a time of people who have gotten by one charisma, we want someone who’s smart again” are similar to opinions you will find anywhere. The inclusion of the reference to Tina Fey’s portrayal of Palin on Saturday Night Live was particularly familiar. The author sets up the story as a look into what real Alaskans think and ends up showing what typical Americans think.

In Atlanta, War-Scarred ‘Lost Girl’ on a Quest
Brian Feagans
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

This piece takes a world concern, turmoil in Africa, and focuses on the local aspect: a “lost girl” in Atlanta. The article specifically looks at Abek Wach’s attempts to find her place in America and take advantages of the opportunities she now has, such as going to college.
The article is broken up into pieces, anecdotes that tell either of her background in Africa or her struggle to fit in in Atlanta. By telling the story this way, the author creates a contrast and comparison between the girl’s old life in a land far away to the reader and the more familiar, local life. In the beginning of the article, Feagans does a particularly good job of this, juxtaposing the two worlds. “She learned volleyball between blinding sandstorms in Kenya. Then she lettered for varsity in Conyers.”

Homeless in Atlanta: Crystal’s Story
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
John Spink

This piece of reporting is focused in photos. The photos taken probably detail the life of Crystal Buchans better than descriptors in a written article. It vividly depicts the city in a different light, blending something the readers find familiar with something they probably overlook.

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Interning in Politics: a Reflection on Michelle Obama in Greensboro, NC

In addition to being a full time student, I’ve recently been working as an intern for the Barack Obama Campaign. I’m the canvassing coordinator, and my main job is to go around Elon’s campus, registering as many students to vote as possible.

The mantra of the Obama campaign set the stage at the Women in Greensboro event.

The mantra of the Obama campaign set the stage at the Women in Greensboro event.

On Thursday morning, as I was preparing for class at about 11:30, my contact at the Democratic Headquarters of Alamance County called me to let me know that she had an extra ticket to see Michelle Obama speaking for a Women for Obama event in Greensboro that afternoon. I said yes right away, and an hour later was on my way to Greensboro with a friend from Elon’s College Democrats and three other volunteers from the campaign.

We drove up to the Carolina Theatre in Greensboro, where the line to get inside filed down the street. The crowd inside was electric with energy before the first speaker appeared, starting chants of “Yes we can” and “Obama.” Though this was a Women for Obama event, the audience was diverse on every level, gender, age, and race. The woman sitting next to me told me she was 84 years old, and called herself a “grandmother for Obama.”

Kay Hagan, the NC democratic candidate for US Senate spoke first, bringing attention to all of the women candidates in NC races this election. She also spoke of her daughters, citing them as a major part why she is involved in politics, and stressed the importance of the women’s vote in the current election, a theme of the whole event. Hagan’s speech felt like unification between the presidential campaign and campaigns at a state level. As a student who will be voting for the first time in the election this November, it signified an all-inclusive feeling to the Democratic party.

Maya Angelou introduces Michelle Obama.

Maya Angelou introduces Michelle Obama.

That feeling continued when Maya Angelou stepped onto the stage to introduce Mrs. Obama. Angelou was a notable supporter of Hillary Clinton during the primaries and while she praised the accomplishments of Senator Clinton, she also explained her refocused support on Senator Obama. Angelou praised Mrs. Obama as a working mother and cited Oprah referring to her as “the real thing.”

Mrs. Obama’s entrance was met with a long standing ovation and the return of the “Yes we can” chanting. She greeted the crowd with a smile and joked “Let’s get out there and win this thing, already!” She reiterated the importance of women to this election, saying women needed a strong advocate in the White House and detailing why her husband was that advocate. She spoke eloquently and amiably.

Michelle Obama address the crowd in the Carolina Theatre in Greensboro.

Michelle Obama address the crowd in the Carolina Theatre in Greensboro.

Though I’ve been working with student led groups in voter registration and voter awareness from the beginning of the primaries, this was my first time at an Obama campaign stop. Throughout this lengthy campaign season, the words “hope” and “change” have been tossed around so many times it might be easy to forget they have meaning, to dismiss them as persuasive rhetorical tools to sway the optimistic and the gullible. But to the people gathered in the Carolina Theatre last Thursday, these words clearly still struck cords. And party unification was a pulsing presence as the crowd- the 19 year old first time voter, the grandmother, the working mothers and fathers, the myriad of ethnicities represented- joined in a single chant:

Yes we can.

A women in the crowd holds up an Obama vote ad in the midst of the cheers and chants.

A women in the crowd holds up an Obama vote ad in the midst of the cheers and chants.

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Appalachian Storyteller Visits Elon

Jim Lloyd, an Appalachian storyteller and singer, visited Elon September 16, performing folk music and sharing tales from his native West Virginia. Lloyd entertained the audience in Whitley Auditorium with three instruments (two types of banjo and a guitar) and storytelling infused with humor.

Lloyd shares tales from Appalachia.

Lloyd singing a folk song.

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Analysis 2: Features


Stories analyzed:

1.Angels and Demons
St. Petersburg Times
Thomas French
2. Pearls Before Breakfast
Washington Post
Gene Weingarten
3. The Umpire’s Sons
The Baltimore Sun
Lisa Pollack
4. Another Battle of New Orleans: Mardi Gras
New York Times
Rick Bragg
5. Class Struggle
Wall Street Journal
Ron Suskind

Thomas French of the St. Petersburg Times won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1998 for his seven-part piece, “Angels and Demons,” chronicling the investigation of the murders of Jo Rogers and her two daughters while vacationing in the Tampa area. French interweaves an exploration of the lives of the three women, the grief and confusion of family and friends in the aftermath of the murders, and a journey of the lengthy police investigation into an extremely compelling human interest piece through a flawless use of detail and anecdotes that come together to tell this complicated story.
French uses quotes sparingly, and often when what is being said gives insight into the views and beliefs and actual person of the person he is interviewing. This enhances the humanizing aspect of the story, as it lets the reader know who these people are and lets them tell the story. Early on, French quotes Rogers’ sister-in-law as saying “When you run a dairy farm, you don’t get a vacation.” While this on the surface does not directly have anything to with a murder investigation, it does provide insight into the mindset of the victims prior to the murder, complimenting the vivid picture French tries to give the reader of the Rogers women.
Throughout the piece, Rogers weaves detailed anecdotes that tell snippets of the investigation, snippets of family and friends’ lives, snippets of background information, letting the pieces come together into a more vivid, clear picture, rather than laying it all out and explaining it straight in a much barer form.

The 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing went to Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post for his piece “Pearls Before Breakfast,” a psychological investigation of the reactions of a crowd during rush hour in a busy D.C. metro station as the passed by a world renowned violinist planted by the Washington Post to act as a street musician. The piece explores why though over 1000 people passed the violinist, a crowd never formed and only 27 people stopped to give money. Weingarten uses a device of rhetorical questioning in the beginning of the piece to place the reader in the mindset of one of the crowd, simulating the thought process when one notices a street musician, proposing the idea that it is a more complicated event worthy of note. This effectively draws in the reader.
Throughout the piece, Weingarten turns to focus on specific people unwittingly drawn into this experiment, providing specific in put into the psychological investigation of piece and breaking some of the generalizations of the crowd. He speaks to the people who visibly noticed the musician to gauge specific reactions. Additionally, he focuses on the musician, which provides an exploration into the effects attention and praise can bestow. He also provides an element of shock to the experiment results by hypothetical pitching the situation to a music expert to have a prediction to compare the results to. All of the specific focus gave the story a higher level of intrigue.

Lisa Pollack of the Baltimore Sun was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing in 1997 for her detailed look at a family dealing with the effects of a family dealing with a genetic disease which has already killed one child and is affecting another. Pollack heavily concentrates on the family dynamics and portrays the boys affected, as well as their parents (particularly the father, drawing on the father and son dynamic and similarities), playing on emotional interest in order to inform. She interweaves medical information with a sympathetic and detailed story, using a specific story to tell a broader one.
Pollack intrigues the reader at the beginning by detailing games the Hirschbeck family played with the sick boy while in the hospital, humanizing the family and creating a sense of attachment in the reader. She sprinkles the passage with informing details such as “he was only the 18th child with this disease to receive a bone marrow transplant,” which both informs and affects. She also uses short sentences for effect, rather than drawing out an explanation, such as “The game was Michael’s favorite. The object was to get home safe.” Pollack also focuses in on one aspect of the story at a time, breaking the piece into subheadings, sustaining attention.

“Another Battle of New Orleans: Mardi Gras” is part of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times series by Rick Bragg which takes an in depth look at different facets of America and it’s people. This particular piece focuses on a Mardi Gras tradition of Indians of Carnival, focusing on the men who participate in the ceremony and pour passion into making their costumes. Bragg uses particular stories with telling quotes and specific details focusing on a few of the participants to frame an explanation of a tradition, drawing the reader in with a human interest. Bragg opens with intrigue, describing man creating a rhinestoned, sequined, and feathered costume, leading the reader to ask why, and continue reading.
Bragg uses vivid detail throughout the piece in describing every aspect of the festival, from the costumes, to the neighborhoods, to the parade march, in order to convey such a colorful and rich in culture event. He transitions to background, enhancing the “stories from the locals” with input from the expert in order to give an outside reader an inside, thorough understanding of this culture. He includes a battle chants written by the men he features in the story, enhancing the reader’s sense of how serious and integral to culture this event is. This is hammered home at the close of the piece, where Bragg writes “A few years ago, he had a heart attack, but he did not have time to die. He had 40 yards of velvet to cut and sew.”
Overall, this piece portrays a cultural clearly with vivid imagery of the march, placing emphasis on the detail descrbing the costumes, just as the men place the most emphasis on creating them.

Ron Suskind’s piece “Class Struggle” is part of a collection of stories chronicling the struggles and lives of inner city honors students in the Wall Street Journal that won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing. Suskind opens the piece by setting the stage at MIT’s minority summer program. He describes the students congregated, and while attaching a minority label to them, he also attaches a background label on them by revealing the careers of their parents. He sets up the intrigue of the story by creating a contrast between the majority of the students, who come from homes with parents with established careers, with the students who come from inner city, broken homes. This creates the idea of a minority within a minority for the reader, opening the audience up to new ideas about these students.

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