A new information resource

Posted on July 16th, 2008 – 3:56 PM
By Will Tacy

Every year, local, state and federal agencies release massive amounts of information on various aspects of life in Minnesota. All of it is public, but much is so dense, so complex – and often so difficult to access – that average citizens rarely see it.

We believe that part of our mission as a news organization is to make as much of this information available to our readers as possible. For decades, we have done that in the newspaper, reporting, writing and publishing stories on what the data shows about life in the state. But on StarTribune.com, we now have the opportunity to provide you with the same information in a more dynamic and interactive manner.

Today we launch a new section – infoCenter – a single destination for our readers to access some of the information and data we collect as a news organization. From real estate transactions to crime reports to public employee salaries, infoCenter provides a rich glimpse into the numbers underlying life in the Twin Cities and across Minnesota. We will expand this service over time, adding more information and data as we go along.

We recognize that some readers may have concerns about our decision to make such information publicly available on StarTribune.com. While we are sensitive to such worries, we believe it is our duty to provide all of you – our readers – with such important public information. There are very good reasons that local, state and federal agencies are required to disclose and publish this information – as Thomas Jefferson so eloquently stated, “An informed citizenry is the bulwark of a democracy.”

We encourage you to explore infoCenter, and we welcome your thoughts, suggestions and questions. You can send us your feedback through the comments feature at the bottom of this page, through our online feedback tool or by emailing us at feedback@startribune.com.

Sign of spring — the Twins report

Posted on February 18th, 2008 – 7:14 PM
By Will Tacy

We in the Gopher state may still be waking up to freezing temperatures, but a welcome sign of the coming Spring has sprung. Twins pitchers and catchers have reported to Fort Myers for spring training. Along with the Twins prospects arriving in Florida this week are the Star Tribune’s own baseball pros La Velle E. Neal III and Joe Christensen.

As any true Twins fan knows, La Velle and Joe can be counted on to keep those of us here in the Twin Cities up to speed on the daily happenings in Florida, in the newspaper and on StarTribune.com. This week, La Velle identified ten big questions the Twins need to answer this pre-season, ranging from the health of star pitcher Francisco Liriano to the contribution expected from new Twins like Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young. Over the coming weeks, La Velle and Joe will be providing answers to those questions. And more often than not, theyll do so first on their blogs, Twins Insider and Around the Majors.

As they did last year, La Velle and Joe will be blogging every day — often several times each day — providing the best, latest info from Fort Myers. So check the blogs each day to keep informed and discuss the Twins’ prospects throughout spring training and the regular season.

Fairness a main tenet of political coverage

Posted on January 13th, 2008 – 2:20 PM
By Nancy Barnes

Around 4:30 p.m. on the day of the Iowa caucuses, we had already signed off on a front-page display that included one dominant photograph when Dennis McGrath, a senior editor in charge of political coverage, raised a concern: Don’t we want to give equal treatment to both parties’ winners?

With that question, I knew the political season had truly begun.

I have been managing front-page displays on and off for more than a decade, and there is little that causes more frustration in a campaign season than trying to find a way to equally balance the photographs. From a visual perspective, a front page is more arresting if it is dominated by one strong image; page designers and photographers will almost always argue that one picture is better than several of equal size. But give prominent display to a Democrat one day, and the Republicans complain that we are a liberal rag. Lead with a Republican and the Democrats cry foul, regardless of the news value of the story. Some days, campaign workers see bias in the image that we pick, suggesting that we deliberately choose pictures that make candidates look unattractive.

And on it goes. These concerns don’t stop at photographs, but extend to headlines, captions, story play, the way we label candidates (conservative vs. liberal), the sources we choose and even the number of paragraphs in a story devoted to one candidate vs. another.

There is good reason for this, of course. Nothing is more important in our country than free, open elections, and the press has a powerful voice in informing the electorate. We lose credibility with readers if we look like we are favoring one candidate or party over time, and we all know that newspapers have the reputation of leaning left.

This year, I have asked McGrath to put together a group of editors, including photographers and copy editors, to examine ways in which political bias can creep into the paper and how we might prevent it. His group will look at everything from how we handle photographs as the campaign progresses to how we ensure that headlines written late at night don’t suggest a liberal or conservative bent. We want to bend over backwards to be fair, but we don’t want to bend over so far backwards that we aren’t telling uncomfortable truths when they need to be told. I believe that readers are more likely to trust us with the truth if they trust that we are being fair.

Under-the-hood changes

Posted on December 4th, 2007 – 7:53 PM
By Will Tacy

The web site you are looking at underwent a radical overhaul today. You may not have noticed any big changes, but that’s a good thing.

As of this afternoon, the site is being produced using new software and is being served from a new location. Most pages won’t look any different, but we’ve taken advantage of the switch to add a few new features we hope will be of value. Among them:

Find contributions from specific reporters and photographers: You can now find dedicated pages for every reporter, columnist, photographer, graphic artist and videographer, featuring all their recent stories, columns, photos, videos, blog posts and audio interviews. Anywhere you see a Star Tribune staff member’s name on an article, photo or graphic, you can click on it to reach that staffer’s page. Or you can use the searchable staff directory.

Email photos, video and more: You can now email any photo, video, audio interview or graphic published on StarTribune.com. Simply click the “Email this” link on any page and type in the email addresses of the people you want to send it to.

The most significant immediate benefit of the change, however, should be seen in the site’s performance. Simply put, StarTribune.com should be far faster than it has been in the past.

We welcome your feedback.

13 seconds in August

Posted on November 28th, 2007 – 5:52 PM
By Cory Powell

This week’s “13 Seconds in August,” which appeared as a graphic in Tuesday’s newspaper and as an interactive package online, was a great example of the kind of meticulous reporting only a newspaper can do and how it can benefit from the power of multimedia storytelling.The project was born in the days immediately after the collapse of the I-35W bridge. Looking at the photos and video footage of the disaster, we couldn’t help but wonder who, exactly, was in those cars and on that bridge? And what happened to them?

The joint print-and-online project chronicles the stories of those on the I-35W bridge when it collapsed on August 1. In Wednesday’s paper, a two-page graphic detailed where each vehicle on the bridge landed after the collapse, with information on the drivers and passengers. On StarTribune.com, scores of survivors recount their experiences in their own words in video and audio interviews.

This project is the culmination of months of investigative work by a team of reporters, editors, graphic artists, videographers and photographers. But it is also a living document. We will continue to update it as we learn new information, and we welcome your contributions to that process.

Taken individually or as companion pieces, the print and online versions offer a rich, deep look at the lives forever changed in those 13 terrifying seconds.

What did you think?

Bowl blogging

Posted on November 16th, 2007 – 11:54 AM
By Will Tacy

Each year, thousands of Minnesotans make the trip to the Metrodome for the Prep Bowl tournament. But thousands more can’t take the time off from work, school or other responsibilities to watch the games in person.
To help those thousands, we dispatched tireless Prep Bowl blogger Jon Marthaler to the dome for the tourney semfinals, laptop in hand. Jon is blogging throughout the day, updating scores after each quarter and recapping the big plays and big performances. Jon is also updating readers on how the day’s schedule is progressing, as a service to those planning to attend later games.

So if your school is playing in the tournament and you can’t get to the game — or if you’re wondering when to get on the road in order to make the game — drop by the Preps Insider blog. Jon has it covered.

Today’s front page

Posted on November 15th, 2007 – 4:09 PM
By Rene Sanchez

Today’s edition is a good example of the goals we have for a weekday front page. Take a look. All of the stories featured there are local without being parochial — and none of them are shallow or silly.

Our showcase story raises important questions about how the state regulates more than 2,000 minivans and passenger vehicles that schools and other groups use to transport students, some of whom are disabled. It’s an aggressive follow-up to a story that we ran Wednesday about how the parents of a child who died in a crash involving one of those vehicles were outraged to learn that the driver had marijuana in his system at the time — and that his driving record may not have been thoroughly checked.

Along with that story, our Washington correspondent Kevin Diaz writes about how $195 million in federal money for replacing the I-35W bridge now appears to be hostage in a larger political fight over pork-barrel spending. And there are smart stories on a startling study about thousands of college students in Minnesota as well as a deep look at an unusual uproar in Scott County that is deeply dividing a community over issues such as religion’s place on a high school campus.

Why did we choose those stories for the front page? The answer is more art than science. No two editors would create the exact same front page. But we believe each of the stories is an example of substantive journalism that’s relevant to readers around the Twin Cities — and can’t easily be found anywhere else.

I understand and respect the skeptical voices saying there are risks to placing too much emphasis on local journalism — because there certainly are. But we have no intention of shutting out the world. Just yesterday, for example, our big-front page story was on the crisis in Pakistan.

But you’ll be seeing many more front pages like the one we published today. Let me know what you think.

Rene Sanchez, Deputy Managing Editor for Content          

Welcome to the editors’ blog

Posted on November 2nd, 2007 – 3:37 PM
By Nancy Barnes

Star Tribune editors will answer your questions and share thoughts about the work in both the paper and online. We welcome reader feedback and comments.