News Blog

Roundup: Globe excels through storytelling strategies and localization

April 11, 2017

By and large, the Boston Globe covers pertinent news in a way that is relevant to their primarily Boston-based audience. The Globe’s efforts to localize national news, cover a wide array of local issues and make stories captivating for readers pay off in their everyday news coverage.

In January, I wrote about a Globe story that covered the Boston Women’s March for America in a unique, hyperlocal way. Professors from Northeastern had been collecting posters from the march to archive, and the globe took a closer look at their plans and efforts. Whereas you could read about the international Women’s Marches in any publication, this story was very specific to the globe and something you couldn’t have found anywhere else. This is something the Globe does with many national stories, and something that gives their readers a reason to read their stories instead of something out of the New York Times.

Other stories I have looked at over the semester have included those covering Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s visit to a local Roxbury church, city-wide rallies, obituaries, school committee meetings and police attempts to diversify their department. These stories, among the hundreds of others the Globe produces on a weekly basis, give readers a very comprehensive understanding of the things happening around Boston and what they should be informed about.

Some stories have been well-told based not only on their topic, but also the way they were written. Many Globe stories effectively use anecdotes to pull readers in and entice them to read stories that they otherwise might not. While the topics themselves may not seem interesting at face value, the way they are told captivates readers and fuels their interest in the topics.

Among the Globe stories with anecdotal ledes, the one that stuck out to me the most was the story on the Boston School Committee meetings, which featured the lengthiness of the meetings and detailed their history. Many may not be interested enough to read a story about school committee meetings, which in and of themselves are terribly boring, but with a lede that uses phrases like “plunged into near darkness,” it is hard to keep from reading into the next couple of paragraphs. Based on the lede and the narrative tone that continued through the rest of the story,  I enjoyed reading this story on a traditionally boring topic and learned a significant amount about the subject matter.
Globe stories often use anecdotal ledes and other strong storytelling strategies to accomplish this same feat of making readers interested enough to keep reading. Between this and their strong localized coverage, the news source tells some of the best stories that I read on a week to week basis and I undoubtedly hope to work for them someday.

Major differences in Globe and Huntington News coverage of Northeastern events

April 4, 2017

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Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun speaks to hundreds about the vision he and others had for the ISEC. Derek Schuster, The Huntington News

This week’s Boston Globe metro stories included coverage of Northeastern University formally opening the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex (ISEC), a $225 million, 6-story facility featuring four classrooms and an additional 5 floors of research labs, offices, kitchens and common rooms. Coincidentally, I also covered the ISEC opening for The Huntington News. I thought the way I covered this story differently from The Globe was very interesting and spoke to the differences in city-wide and university-focused reporting.

For the Huntington News, our coverage primarily focused on the event itself and the speakers whereas for the Globe, the focus was on what the building was and what it meant for Northeastern. Though this was surprising at first, it made sense once I began to think about it: The Huntington News had already covered what the building was in earlier stories and the true news in this event for us was the event itself. Four prominent Massachusetts politicians (Senators Warren and Markey, Rep. Kennedy and Mayor Walsh) were present at our school and spoke at the event, making it a huge deal for Northeastern readers.

However, for the Globe this was a lesser point, and what was important was the fact that this building opened and was going to be the center of much research at a university within their coverage zone.

For instance, the Globe article put the ISEC opening in the context of Northeastern’s federal research funding.

The university’s federal research funding has more than doubled in the last 10 years, Bean said, and Northeastern currently receives more than $130 million a year in federal research funding. Since the 2006-2007 academic year, Northeastern has hired 565 new tenured and tenure-track faculty in disciplines tied directly to its research goals, Bean said, and the school plans to recruit additional faculty in coming years.  The Boston Globe

There was no mention of this within the Huntington News story because we often cover research being done at the university and have published several follow up stories on the state of the ISEC. This on its own shows the difference between The Huntington News and Boston Globe, as this may have been their only story on the building but it was at least our third.

So, while it was a huge event for us and we devoted three reporters and three photographers to our coverage, for the Globe it was more about how the ISEC related to the university’s research historically.

Balanced coverage of diversity in police department

March 27, 2017

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Photo courtesy U.S. Army

The Boston Globe’s story on how the Boston Police Department wants to recruit more minorities but isn’t sure how was top-to-bottom an excellent example of balanced reporting.

The story began by listing all the efforts that the BPD recently made to recruit more people into the the police force, specifically people of color and women. This, plus a quote by the police commissioner saying that it was the greatest effort they had ever made, shed a positive light on the BPD’s determination to diversify.

Immediately it is followed by a paragraph that said a thousand fewer applicants signed up to take the Civil Service exam to be a police officer than previous years, and that the same percent people who signed up were people of color (51 percent). Stating the department’s good intentions alongside their failures made for a good balance in the story.

This quality of balance carried through the rest of the story. The story further addresses the officers’ difficulties diversifying the department, talks about institutional reasons behind these, includes quotes of officers saying that they aren’t sure why they aren’t able to attract more diverse applicants.

“I don’t know why that is,” Evans said. “It’s not by a lack of effort on our part. Unfortunately we don’t have control over how many people go and sign up.” The Boston Globe

The story also address the general difficulty involved in becoming a police officer and issues of whether or not to give veterans preference in hiring.
Overall, these different aspects of the story weaved together to give the readers a holistic idea of the issue and really helps them develop informed opinions on the subject.

Education stories employ nut graf to connect alternative ledes to broader trends

March 21, 2017

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The Boston Globe nut graf connected an anecdote about one classroom to state-wide trends toward alternative seating for students. Photo courtesy Pixabay public domain.

Using anecdotal ledes brings power to many stories which may otherwise be bland. Bringing feature-like aspects into some news stories often resonates with readers and increases the likelihood that they will read to the end. However, an alternative lede is only as effective as its accompanying nut graf. These must tie the lede in with the main point of the story and summarize what the remainder of the story will cover, and must do so seamlessly so that readers don’t get confused about what the story covers. Nut grafs are like the thesis statements of journalism: a story will likely fall apart without them.

A Boston Globe story about how school furniture is becoming more comfortable has a nut graf that captures the story’s main point. The lede references how previous generations of students had to sit, never fidgeting, in rigid seats. It then sets a scene of a modern-day elementary classroom that uses exercise balls, standing desks and yoga mats instead.

The following nut graf puts this scene into the greater context of alternative classroom seating across Massachusetts, which teachers have been incorporating into their classrooms to make students more comfortable and boost productivity. The remainder of the story focuses on this idea, telling the different forms of seating teachers have adopted, citing different cities that have implemented alternative seating options and listing the potential positive effects.

“Across Massachusetts, teachers are increasingly embracing a lesson learned from the dot-com world: different types of seating can make folks more comfortable, which in turn can boost productivity and creative thinking.” The Boston Globe

The pairing of anecdotal lede and nut graf in this story adds a more human-interest element to it from the get go and makes it relatable to both older and younger generations of readers who may have experienced either the rigid seats and sitting still, or the newly introduced exercise balls and yoga mats.

Another Globe story discusses Trump’s proposed budget cuts in the context of how they would negatively impact school programs that address issues in schools. It starts with an anecdote about volunteers “clad in red jackets, khaki pants and workboots” to greet students as they arrive to school and then call those who don’t show up. A transition paragraph connected this to Trump’s budget proposal, saying the budget put the program in jeopardy.

The following nut graf describes how Trump’s budget jeopardizes the program, explaining that the program is among those funded by the AmeriCorps program, which is part of the Corporation for National  and Community Service that Trump plans to eliminate. This nut graf sets up the rest of the story to go deep into how this budget cut will affect students, and as a result how it will affect society at large.

A third Globe story talked about how the number of students applying to law school has decreased drastically over the past 10 years. This followed a more general lede which said that the University of Arizona and now Harvard University would be accepting a generic graduate school exam in order to bring in a larger number of more diverse lawyers into their programs. This setup put a national problem into the context of current events.

“Nationwide, the number of students applying to law school has plummeted by nearly 40 percent since 2006, as the job market for lawyers has contracted and students have become increasingly wary of loading up on debt without a reliable way to pay it off.” The Boston Globe

The nut graf itself set the scene for the rest of the story which discussed the current process for getting into law school, the transition some schools are making, the objections posed by the Law School Admission Council and the hopes that leaders of law schools think these changes will have on their institutions.

Nut grafs are important to put a reader into the right mindset to read the story after an alternative lede sparks their interest. A well-worded nut graf connects the lede with the broader context of the story and smoothly transitions the reader into the bulk of the article, and these Globe nut grafs did it right.

American hookup culture dissected at Valentine’s Day event

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March 17, 2017

By Paxtyn Merten

Caring, tenderness and emotions are looked down upon within the American college hookup culture, a sociology professor and author said at her book talk Feb. 14 in the Curry Student Center Ballroom.

Standing next to the podium, fist on her hip, author Lisa Wade detailed the research behind her book, “American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus” to an audience of majority-female students at the Valentine’s Day event.

Wade defines hookups as any sexual activity not intended to have romantic or future sexual potential. She said hookups have been seen as a social requirement of the college experience since the 1990s.

“It went from being an option to being an expectation—and maybe even an imperative or an obligation—such that students begin to think that this is really the only way we are supposed to be engaging with one another sexually,” Wade said.

Wade cracked jokes about sex, Valentine’s day and students she worked with to lighten the mood. While the audience had listened quietly during the beginning of the talk, many laughed in response to these and several asked Wade questions during the post-talk discussion.

A few sociology and gender studies classes were required or recommended to attend the event. Emily Daniels, a senior mechanical engineering major at Northeastern, went to the book talk because it sounded interesting and would fulfill one of her sociology assignments.

“Being a sexually active student means that you end up falling into the hookup culture in this hookup environment in one way or another, you end up being tied to the environment whether you want to or not,” Daniels said.

Despite pressure to hook up on college campuses, Wade’s data found that one-third of graduating college students have never hooked up. Graduating senior reported an average of just eight total hookups throughout their college experience.

Many of those students who didn’t hook up while in college chose not to because of the emotion rules and the way sex played out in everyday lives, Wade said. Many students didn’t like how they felt when they were insensitive or indifferent toward their sexual partners, per the social rules of hookup culture.

“A lot of them would have been really happy to be having sex in some kind of way, they would have really even been happy having some kind of casual sexual contact,” Wade said. “But they didn’t like how hard and callous it felt and so they didn’t want to participate in that.”

Daniels said her own college experience did not support the statistics that wade Cited.

In light of the holiday, there were valentine-themed desserts and free pizza provided at the event. Audience members were near-silent when they first entered the room but the chatter grew as they picked up these treats and discussed what they thought the talk would be like.

Suzanna Walters, the director of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, helped arrange the book talk with Wade due to her familiarity with Wade’s other work in sociology.

“What has always struck me and impressed me about Lisa’s work is her insistence on producing, indeed championing, what we might call ‘public sociology’” Walters said when introducing Wade to the audience. “Now Lisa has further cemented her status as a public intellectual by taking on hookup culture, a much-discussed phenomenon but one rarely engaged with in this kind of depth.”

Wade is finishing the first leg of her book tour and extended invitations to speak about her book at a few Boston universities, including Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northeastern. She said she hopes her book can empower students to take over the culture they are in.
“I hope American Hookup describes what’s going on in a way that students recognize,” Wade said.” “But even if it just starts a conversation, I’m really excited that it might help give students a leg-up in trying to transition their campuses into something that serves more of them better.”

Niche story weaves anecdotes and numbers

March 13, 2017

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Graphic which accompanied story about lengthy Boston School Committee meetings. Depicts meeting lengths for 2016. The Boston Globe

The Boston Globe reported a story Monday featuring the lengthiness of the Boston School Committee meetings. As a previous student adviser to my own school district’s school board, I was immediately drawn to this story based on the headline: “Even with the lights out, Boston School Committee meetings push on.”

Reading the headline immediately sparked my interest because it painted a picture in my head of people in a room not too different than the one I sat in for hours on end less than a year ago, but sitting there for longer and in the dark. This visual was intriguing, as I am sure it would be for anyone who has been to a school board meeting or really any meeting that follows Robert’s Rules of Order.

The writer followed this compelling headline with somewhat of an anecdotal lede, saying, “These days, Boston School Committee meetings run so long they are sometimes plunged into near darkness when overhead lights automatically shut off at 11 p.m., a clear sign that it might be time to call it quits after five hours of talking.” While this is a bit editorializing, especially with the phrase “a clear sign,” it greatly complements the headline by telling more details about why the Boston School Committee continues to meet even when the lights go out. The lede provides necessary information while still maintaining the initial tone – and the reader’s interest, which is not something every story with a catchy headline can achieve.

The meetings, which begin at 6 p.m., run so late some nights that a family vacationing in Aruba could take a flight home when the meeting starts and still make it in time for the final round of public testimony at the end. The Boston Globe

The rest of the story combines statistics, examples and anecdotes to go into why the meetings run so long, especially in light of the fact that they used to be notoriously short. It even contains a bar chart which shows every 2016 meeting duration. These elements combine to tell a concise yet informative story.

Furthermore, this story is aimed at a very niche audience. As I said, I was drawn to it because I used to advise a similar school board (though I likely wouldn’t have if the meetings were 4-6 hours long). Others interested in this story might include school district parents, especially those who are active in the school committee and attend meetings, teachers and committee members; an average Bostonian probably wouldn’t be as fascinated.

Considering the very specific readership, the story does well to entertain and inform those who read it. It tells readers the exact details they would want to know, and does so in a way that makes them want to keep reading. I did not leave this story with any questions, but I did feel (and acted on) the urge to share it with my fellow school board student advisers.

Obituaries must tell a story of life, not of death

Feb. 28, 2017

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There has been a lot of death in the community lately, it seems—or at least, that is the impression I got as the Campus News Editor of the Huntington News after editing two student obituaries in the past week. So, when I got onto the Boston Globe website and saw an obituary of a 16-year-old girl who died in a car crash earlier this week, I was drawn to it. Particularly I was interested to see how the Globe’s obituaries are different than those written for the Huntington News.

The Globe’s obituary of the girl, Sydney Coiro, contained beautiful quotes and anecdotes which seemed to paint a picture of who Coiro was. The second quote from her grandmother sparked emotion in readers early on, particularly the writer’s interjection that her voice broke as she was speaking. A later anecdote about Coiro attempting to make a co-worker smile on a day he was in a bad mood made the readers wish they had known her.

Late in the story there were stories of things Coiro did at her workplace, a rehabilitation and nursing center, which characterized her as kind and caring. These stories provided an impressive picture of who Coiro was as a person. After reading this, I feel like I have a fair idea of who Coiro was and the role she played in her community.

The primary problem with this story was that those pieces came much too far down in the piece.

The readers don’t read very much about who Coiro was as a person until they are three-quarters of the way down the story, and the space up until that point is clogged with details about her accident and fairly unemotional and unimportant quotes which didn’t add much to her story.

If this is the story that will determine how Coiro is remembered by the larger community, the quotes earlier on should have more substance and the picture should be painted earlier on. The reporter should have left the details of the death and lesser quotes for the middle or near-end of the story rather than forcing them into the beginning of the story. This risks readers abandoning the story before they understand the totality of who Coiro was.

The obituary published in the Huntington News today about a student, Neil Fachon, who died of a rare cancer seemed to me to have a better flow of information: the details of who Fachon was and the compelling stories were concentrated at the beginning, and the discussion of his disease and fight against it came later, after his personality was established. This, I think, is a more appropriate way to address the death of a community member.

However, it is different for The News considering the fact that we are writing for and about our peers. We have a reason to emphasize people’s personalities more so than the full details of their deaths because they are our friends, acquaintances and classmates. Still, this does not excuse the Globe story’s volume of seemingly irrelevant input from people who likely played minor roles in Coiro’s life. She needed to be emphasized in the words of those who mattered most and had the fullest stories to tell, and the story failed to do this.

The Huntington News does it better: reporting on protests

Feb. 19, 2017

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As the Campus Editor of the Huntington News, I have collectively read, edited and written dozens of protest stories, all of which were better than the Boston Globe story about the science rally Sunday.

The problems with this article were not content-based: the reporting was good. However, throughout the story there was messy sentence structure and oversaturation of facts in single sentences that made it difficult to completely understand the piece. If I were an average reader, I likely would have dropped the piece after the lede.

Scientists in white lab coats and supporters, some bearing signs that said, “Follow the Evidence” and “Science Matters,” rallied in Copley Square Sunday to call for a fight against President Trump’s efforts to discredit science and climate research, and to dismantle scientific institutions in the government. The Boston Globe

The lede is where the confusion started and what really tuned me in to watch out for complicated sentences throughout the story. The reporter tried to include too many details too early on. The lede attempted to paint a picture of the rally and included details about scientists wearing white lab coats and what their posters said and where and when the rally was and the fact that it was meant to fight Trump’s efforts to discredit research and dismantle scientific institutions and and and……. Did reading that sentence make you confused and feel mentally out of breath? Good, because that is approximately how I felt while reading the lede of this story. Rather than painting a picture of the rally, as the lede intended to do, it confused readers with its interrupting clauses and additional clauses. A lede should either paint a picture using an anecdote or tell the basic information about a given event, but it should not attempt to do both. Attempting to include both results in failure.

In several other cases throughout the story I ran into confused sentence structure, where information could have either been formatted differently or split into different sentences. For instance, one of the sentences (directly following the lede and second paragraph) introduced a man, then said he brought his daughter, and then said what his protest poster said. The following sentence described his daughter’s poster. The result was a clunky paragraph that could have been avoided had the reporter simply grouped each person with the saying on their respective signs.

Furthermore, one of the most vital points of the piece—a detailed explanation of why people were rallying in general—didn’t show up until a third of the way down in the story. A paragraph that was located one anecdote and five poster-descriptions down the page literally could have served as a better lede than the one the reporter went with. The overall order of this story was confused in the same way as the structure of individual sentences.

Again, the reporting in this story was well done. The reporter included some good anecdotes and powerful imagery that surely captured the feel and purpose of the rally. However, that doesn’t matter if the writing is too confusing for an average reader to comprehend. Regardless of how many examples a reporter provides, the readers are not going to feel that sense of the event if the reporter does not write the story clearly and concisely. Writing makes or breaks a story, and it definitely broke this one.

Nevertheless, she persisted—the story of Warren’s local impact at a Roxbury church

Feb. 14, 2017

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Photo courtesy U.S. Senate, creative commons

Another localized article relating to a national story stuck out to me in this week’s Metro section of the Boston Globe. This one related to when Elizabeth Warren was prevented from reading a letter written by Coretta Scott King at the Senate debate over Jeff Sessions’ appointment to attorney general.

This story looked at an event which happened after the fact: Warren visited the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Roxbury the Sunday following the hearing and spoke to the congregation about what had happened. The story, however, hardly quoted Warren and instead drew more insight from the church members, especially from the teenagers who were being honored at that particular service.

Though the story leads with what Warren said during the service, it quickly dove into the opinions of the teenagers about what Warren did and said.

Using this strategy, the reporter was able to pull in readers who were interested in this national issue and then show them a story they may not have seen otherwise: The opinions of city youth on what Warren said and the achievements of these young people.

Teenagers sitting in the pews, seven of whom were individually recognized later in the service for their accomplishments, said they heard Warren’s message: Don’t be silent. The Boston Globe

One of the teenagers, Emma DiMarino, was quoted saying she wants to be a “voice for the voiceless” and speak out on issues—especially those pertaining to African-Americans and women—as an attorney or political advocate. Perspectives like DiMarino’s added a layer of depth and a more genuine feel to the story than the Globe may have been able to produce on this topic otherwise.

By the end of the story, it wasn’t about Warren at all, rather it was about the seven students at the church who were given laptops and a $5,000 collective scholarship for their educational and community achievements.Yet the story was still connected to those ideas through and through, and the story came together as a whole to be very community-oriented.

The ability of journalists to connect such a diverse range of national events to something so intricately local is incredible, and something I emulate in my own writing on a daily basis.

Senator encourages Boston residents to follow city’s revolutionary history

Originally written Jan. 31, 2017

The people of Boston must fight the current presidential administration just as they have fought social and political battles throughout history, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey said during a speech at the Jan. 21 Boston Women’s March on America.

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Protesters hold up signs as they listen to speakers at the Boston Women’s March on America. Paxtyn Merten

Markey said the large turnout of marchers on the Boston Common was  was in the tradition of other movements that had a presence the city. He cited the American Revolution, the abolitionist movement, the suffragette movement and the anti-Vietnam war protests.

“This is who Massachusetts is,” Markey said. “This is who we are. We are the revolutionaries.”

City officials estimated around 175,000 people gathered for the Jan. 21 march. The gathering was to to protest the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump and support groups perceived to be threatened by his presidency. Markey was one of more than 10 speakers and performers, who included U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Boston mayor Marty Walsh.

March attendee Tanya Miller said Markey’s focus on Boston’s revolutionary history made his speech stand out compared to the others.

“Ed Markey talked about movements of resistance native to Boston and how it has a history of activism,” Miller said. “The rest of the speakers were saying ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’ but he was talking about the history of the fight.”

Markey shouted to the audience, often saying each word as if it was its own sentence and repeating his call to action: “Are you ready to fight?”

He highlighted rights that protesters would have to fight for, including reproductive rights and equal pay for women. He also pointed to entities they must fight against, such as the National Rifle Association and registries of Muslim-Americans.

Protester Blair Hollis said that Markey’s words brought a lot of energy to the crowd. She said that while Warren is a higher-profile senator, Markey was just as impactful of a speaker.

“Maybe he’s overshadowed by Elizabeth Warren and the mainstream media, but I was impressed at how accurately he represented my views,” Hollis said.

Markey later alluded to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—whose commemoration day was four days before the inauguration—and drew parallels to his “I Have a Dream” speech.

“Well, unfortunately, Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress also have a dream,” he said. “They have a dream that one day our nation will be surrounded by a wall build with bigotry and hate. They have a dream that one day our nation will judge you by virtue of your race, by virtue of your creed, by virtue of your country of origin.”

He tied King’s legacy back to the preceding generations of revolutionaries to make a final call for people to mobilize, saying that those who had led civil rights movements before them would want them to fight against the policies of Trump’s administration.

“Are you ready to fight?” he asked, met by cheers from the crowd. “Are you ready to give everything you’ve got for the next four years so that Donald Trump is just an asterisk in history?”

Miller said that she was at the march to take action and was ready to be called to do more in the future.

“I’m here because I’m disappointed with the fact that a bully has taken the highest role in our society and that his sexism and racist comments have not been addressed by our society at large,” she said. “I feel like I have to take action.”

Delayed intros make unusual stories more interesting

February 6, 2o17

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Dressed in scrubs and acting as though she belonged, Cheryl Wang participated in lectures and sat in on operations at Brigham and Women’s Hospital for days. Photo courtesy Max Pixel 

A recent story in the Globe embodied the “unusual” aspect of newsworthiness, and the style of writing complemented the subject matter. The story was about a woman, Cheryl Wang, who snuck into a hospital posing as a doctor in training in order to sit in on lectures, patient rounds and operations.

This unusual and intriguing story began with a delayed introduction lede, paralleling the story’s real life contents in which Wang’s true identity was omitted for days while she acted as a student in the hospital and snuck undetected through security checks.

 

For several days, she roamed the halls of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, dressed in scrubs, asking questions at a lecture, attending patient rounds, and observing operations — even helping transport a patient to the recovery unit.

The middle-aged woman said she was a doctor in training, but she was not.

The Boston Globe

The story doesn’t get into traditional news style for another few paragraphs still, focusing on the increasingly strange aspects of the story that were unveiled before launching into more news-eque coverage of the facts and related issues.
After the reporter finished her initial storytelling method, she transitioned smoothly into the premise of the story: How did Wang enter so many restricted areas repeatedly without an identification badge? The reporter goes in depth into this topic and covers it comprehensively and interestingly. She tells the story in a way which made the reader want to read it all the way through because of the interest she built within the first paragraphs, which is precisely what a lede is supposed to do.

How does an adolescent end up in a murder trial?

January 30, 2o17

The Boston Globe took an extra step in reporting on a 14-year-old boy being charged with first-degree murder. In this story, a reporter talked to the boy’s family members and got their reflections on how he wound up in such a position.

This story was particularly strong because it served as a way to explain an uncommon and profoundly troubling story: That of a child purposefully killing another. A story of two teenagers whose lives were lost, one to death and one to jail as penalty for taking that of the former. To think of kids as killers is an unsettling idea for anyone. People find it impossible to fathom that kids the same age as their brothers, sons and grandsons could be capable of murdering another. This story addresses those unsettling thoughts and shows the background of a boy who could spend the rest of his life behind bars, which is powerful in and of itself.

An anecdotal lede was fitting for this story, in which the reporter showed the readers how the boy, Raeshawn, celebrated his 15th birthday in the Department of Youth Services facility. It began with the words, “Retha Moody walked across the asphalt to the beat of a clanging flagpole, past the barbed-wire fence, toward the red brick building, balancing a long white box in her arms.”

This alternative beginning set a different mood for the story than the typical summary lede and background information would have. It set the scene, created curiosity at what was in the box and drew the reader into a different form of writing. This and the next paragraph showed the reader that this would be a story centered on a boy’s life, not on a crime, and on his family.

The rest of the story recounts what Raeshawn’s family said about his upbringing and personality, combined with court records to add additional context to the story. It was powerful in that it not only talked about what the family said, but also described scenes of Raeshawn’s house and past.

For instance, the reporter described Raeshawn’s bedroom as “painted blue, and sunlight poured in through a window facing the street.” This imagery painted the boy as someone who could have been anyone and allowed the reader to see him as a person just like any other, rather than as a criminal being charged for murder.

These choices that the reporter made created a story which addressed the topic of youth murder and violence in a deeper, more reflective way, which fulfilled the story’s purpose to add a layer of depth to the coverage of Raeshawn’s crimes and trial.

Localized story on Northeastern professors collecting Women’s March posters

January 22, 2o17

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A mere few of the thousands of posters protesters made for the Boston Women’s March. Northeastern Professors collected some of these posters to archive in the Snell Library Archival system. Photo by Paxtyn Merten

One of the Boston Globe’s Sunday homepage stories, Professors stash rally signs to preserve a piece of history, was particularly intriguing because it hyper-localized an international movement. Nearly every large U.S. city—and some non-U.S. cities—held a Women’s March, and while national and local publications reported on the millions of protesters, I have yet to read another story that focuses on such a niche detail of the protests as this one.

The story reports on how several Northeastern professors collected a van full of protest signs after the Women’s March in order to archive them in the campus’ Snell Library Archives.

“It’s a very historic moment, and it is a kind of unique collective expression of a collective action,” said Dietmar Offenhuber, an assistant professor of art and design at Northeastern, and one of the people who was with [Nathan] Felde as they loaded the truck with more than 1,000 signs.

The Boston Globe

The story was well-reported because it didn’t pull in too much information about the protests. People already know from the massive supply of mainstream news coverage what the events looked like, how many people were there and what the meaning of the protests were.

Rather, it honed in on the details of the professors’ decision to archive the posters. For instance, the story talked about how it was a fast decision for the professors, who had to coordinate with the archive library staff late at night before the posters were taken away by the city’s clean-up crew. The story even referenced how the professors will now have to decide how to preserve the posters, and whether to digitize them and combine them with similar collections across the nation.

While there was quite a bit of editorializing within the story, such as describing the handmade signs as “politically driven and brutally honest,” this was again a decision made with the Globe’s audience in mind. A large majority of Boston, Massachusetts and New England residents are politically liberal (as seen by the 175,000 participants in the Boston march). For a story that is as localized as this one and for which the primary readers will be those who care deeply about the march (or archiving), these nuanced details are more acceptable.
These are the kinds of viewpoints and specificity of detail that you wouldn’t get from a general Women’s March story in any national news outlet, or even many local publications. The Globe looked for a story that was unusual and hyper-specific to its own community

The need for international antibiotic research

January 16, 2o17

On the infinite list of things that everyone needs to worry more about, superbugs rank pretty high up there. And by superbug, of course, I don’t mean a fly in a cape: I’m referring to antibiotic resistant bacteria which took another American victim in September.

The Globe reported earlier this week the story of a Nevada woman who died from an infection which was resistant to 26 antibiotics — the entire arsenal in the United States’ antibacterial army.

One particular element of the story stuck out above the rest — the call for more international collaboration in dealing with superbugs.

“If we’re waiting for some sort of major signal that we need to attack this internationally … here’s one more signal that we need to do that,” said Lance Price, who heads the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University.

Combining the research from top scientists across the globe on this potentially deadly issue seems like a no-brainer — should there be an outbreak of these antibiotic-resistant bacteria among greater portions of the population, it could result in mass casualties. In a SciShow episode describing another superbug case back in May, Hank Green described a 2009 outbreak of a pneumonia bacteria which was resistant to colistin and carbapenem — two antibiotics considered the last line of defense for infections — and 11 out of 18 of the patients died. Furthermore, the Globe story reported that experts say antibiotic resistance could lead to the deaths of 10 million people per year by 2050 if left unchecked.

Green went on to talk about researchers’ progress with an antibiotic called Teixobactin, which bacteria shouldn’t be able to build resistance to because it prevents them from  building cell walls. This research could contribute to a massive pushback against the development of superbugs. On the other hand, an an even greater pushback could be achieved with international research collaboration between the best scientists worldwide.

However, the Globe’s report stated that the UN General Assembly has only met on antibiotic resistance four times, the last of which was in September. The emphasis on cross-border research sharing is not strong enough and the pressure from the public toward this collaboration is minimal, if any.

Despite these unpromising statistics for superbug survival, people don’t talk much about this issue in a factual and reasonable way. People either fear the imminent advent of unstoppable superbugs or don’t give them a second thought. I have heard more people discussing their kids getting autism from vaccines than I have discussing the possible impact of superbugs and what we should do about it.

Antibiotic resistance must be acted upon by international researchers and ordinary people. These superbugs are often created when people stop taking their antibiotics when they “feel better” rather than when they have finished their antibiotic prescription and killed off all the harmful bacteria. Thus people must begin to raise awareness of this, and of the need for antibiotic research collaboration, immediately.

If we fail to do so, the future of bacterial infections could be much nastier and much more deadly than ever before.