Chris Essig

Walkthroughs, tips and tricks from a data journalist in eastern Iowa

Archive for January 2010

25 news organizations and their coverage of the Haiti tragedy

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By now, we’ve all heard about the terrible tragedy that unfolded on Tuesday in the country of Haiti. As of now, death toll estimates are reaching 50,000, which is absolutely horrific. As expected, news organizations across the country have been diligently working to cover this calamity. A variety of angles have been used to cover this monumental story; the Chicago Tribune, for instance, focused on Chicago residents with family members in Haiti, while CBS focused on the U.S. response. Some simply called a cry for help.

Last night, I was browsing the Internet, reading various articles on the earthquakes, and decided to capture some screen shots from the news sites. I captured 25 in all. Here is a quick slideshow I put together so you can compare and contrast the coverage:

[NOTE: Click here to view a larger version of the slideshow]

Vodpod videos no longer available.

How to help:

– Text “HAITI” to “90999 and a donation of $10 will be given to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts.

– Visit the Huffington Post’s page by clicking here.

Written by csessig

January 14, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Same speech, three different stories

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One interesting dilemma while working for a newspaper company as opposed to a newspaper is making your coverage meaningful for all of your publications. What that typically means for most stories is getting sources–lawmakers–from every region we cover: the Quad cities, Bloomington, Decatur, Mattoon/Charleston and southern Illinois. The same was true for Gov. Pat Quinn’s State of the State address yesterday. Basically we split our coverage into two parts: a story on the speech, which was compiled by my bureau chief Kurt Erickson, and a reaction piece from local lawmakers, which I worked on with Mike Riopell. Usually when we write a reaction story or a story or a piece of legislation, we put together one article filed with quotes from lawmakers in the five mentioned coverage areas. Well, the SoS address was a little different. Instead of one story, we decided to create separate stories for each coverage area.

Fortunately, The Southern covered the speech on their own, so we didn’t need to worry about talking to those six lawmakers in their area. But getting a hold of the other lawmakers after the speech was mandatory, meaning Mike and I had to talk to roughly 15 lawmakers before they got the hell out of the Capitol. And the result of that was three separate stories (the Quad City Times did not pick up our story). All the stories were set up the same, they just featured different lawmakers. Here’s a quick wrap:

Decatur Herald & Review

State Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, said he assumed the speech would take political tones with Quinn facing a primary election in three weeks.

“The city of Decatur…has 15 percent unemployment,” he said. “What did he talk about putting those people back to work? What did he talk about bring manufacturing back to Illinois? I didn’t hear a lot.”

Budget details will come when Quinn gives lawmakers his proposal in the coming months, said state Rep. Bob Flider, D-Mount Zion.

Bloomington Pantagraph

“I think he’s a nice guy, but certainly the speech didn’t tell us anything,” said state Rep. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga. “It had no meat in it at all.”

State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, agreed.

“It was a long speech short on specifics,” Brady said.

Matton Journal Gazette & Times-Courier

State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said he thought Quinn’s remarks should have focused more on the problems facing Illinois.

“I felt like we were walking through Candy Land,” Rose said. “We’ve got real problems to address.”

Similar criticism came from other Republicans.

“I was disappointed the governor didn’t spend more time on the issues that really trouble the state,” said state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon. “The speech isn’t about what’s good about the state of Illinois. It’s just the state of Illinois. And there is a lot wrong in Illinois.

Amazingly, almost every lawmaker we talked to basically said the same thing: the speech, despite being 75 minutes long, lacked specifics. But in all fairness, Quinn’s budget address is coming up next month, which will likely include more specific details on how the state is going to get out of this fiscal nightmare. It will be interesting to see how Quinn–whether he’s the Democratic nominee or not–addresses the state then.

If you feel so inclined, the entire budget address is available by clicking here.

Also, a full transcript of the speech is available here.

Controversial cigarette tax hike back on the table

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The American Lung Association and Rep. Karen Yarbrough, D-Maywood, held a news conference in the Capitol press room yesterday morning to announce they are renewing their efforts to pass a cigarette tax increase this legislative session. This proposal is nothing new; the same bill narrowly passed the Senate last April. But the measure was never voted on in House.

The ALA also released a scant review of Illinois’ tobacco laws. The state received a dismal “D” grade in cigarette taxing, which the association cited in its call for higher taxes. Apparently the higher the taxes, the better the rating. You don’t see that everywhere…

Anyways, I covered the news conference. Here is a quote:

SPRINGFIELD – On the same day the American Lung Association released a report on Illinois’ tobacco control laws, the association said it plans to renew an effort to pass a cigarette tax hike this year.

The association will be teaming up with state Rep. Karen Yarbrough, D-Maywood, to push an increase in the cigarette tax by $1. Currently, the state tax adds 98 cents to the cost of a pack of smokes.

Last year, a tax hike was approved in the state Senate but was not voted on in the House.

And the link.

This is my first “beat,” per say, or first issue to follow throughout the legislative session. If there is big news regarding this piece of legislation, I’ll be reporting on it…Hopefully things will get interesting.

Written by csessig

January 13, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Google Fast Flip irony

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I met to post this sooner but didn’t. Anyways, on Monday I posted about the new “Fast Flip” tool on Google News that allows users to surf the news using a flip-book style navigation system. Instead of just text, the new tool allows users to flip through pictures of articles as they appear on their publication’s web site. Well, a controversy soon popped up. On Monday morning, just days after the tool was added to Google News, it was revealed that “Fast Flip” was showing a picture of a topless model in its “most viewed” section. SearchEngineLand reported on it Monday morning and by the afternoon, the article was gone. But later that night, when I was searching Google News I noticed the SearchEngineLand article itself was now being shown in the “most viewed” section of the site. So while Google managed to delete the topless model from it’s “most viewed” section, an article about the topless model being in Google’s “most viewed section” was now being shown in Google’s “most viewed section.” Got all of that? Maybe a screenshot would help:

That, folks, is a screen shot of a screen shot…

And that’s my ironic post of the week.

Written by csessig

January 13, 2010 at 8:57 pm

The future of online news-gathering?

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Google has quickly become the go-to web site for journalists and news gathers alike because it takes everything that is great about the search engine and implements it into a thriving, robust news cooperative. But fortunately for us, Google News is not done evolving. In the last month, the company has unveiled a few new, flashy features that may change news-gathering forever. Well…maybe not. But check them out:

1. “Fast Flip” – Google News received a face-lift last Friday with the addition of the “Fast Flip” option at the bottom of their homepage. The new option allows readers to browse the news by flipping through images of articles as they appear on their publication’s web site. Images can be sorted by region, publication, popularity, etc. This is similar to the options already utilized at Google News. Here’s a screen shot I captured earlier today:

Apparently “Fast Flip” was rolled this out in September over at Google Labs, a sub-site that showcases “experiments” designed by Google developers before they officially make it into But on Friday the “experiment” became an official part of the news page. And I believe Google News is all the better for it.

This trend of image-heavy, online news publications is growing. The Chicago Tribune launched a new web site a few months ago that vastly increased the number of images on its front page. Now, almost every main article on the front page is accompanied with an image. And I don’t think the Huffington Post even bothers putting anything online unless they have a stock photo that can be tagged with the article.

This trend will likely continue into the new year. People love photos and they are naturally drawn to web sites that are image happy. And be on the look out for videos to play a more important role on publication web sites, as well. YouTube News is a great example of what some newspapers may latch onto in the coming months.

2. Living Stories – Still in the developer stage on Google Labs is “Living Stories,”a so-called “experiment in presenting news, one designed specifically for the online environment.” Basically a Living Story is a mini-web site devoted to a single topic hosted by a news organization. Content includes images, articles and timelines, and each page is designed with Google’s easy navigation in mind. Topics range from the War in Afghanistan to the NFL Playoffs. Unfortunately only two newspapers are currently participating in the “experiment,” the New York Times and the Washington Post. But the experiment is still young, leaving plenty of time for growth.

The last 12 hours has seen a flurry of activity, leaving me very hopeful for the future. In fact, two living stories have been updated in the time I left for work and now. Hopefully developers find the time to stretch this new technology to the fullest…

As is customary with Google, they released a video to accompany the launch of the web site. It’s pretty self-explanatory but at least it’s short. Check it out:

Oh, and sorry for the really cliche headline.

Written by csessig

January 11, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Great idea I wish I would have thought of first

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Fellow PARian Steve Contorno has a week one wrap up from this year’s class. Check it out!

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January 10, 2010 at 8:31 pm

The first week

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I just finished my first week interning in the Statehouse with Lee Enterprises. It was nerve-racking, exciting and pretty much every emotion in between. But I survived. Honestly, it was a fairly slow week given the lingering holiday season. But next week promises to be more action-packed as the legislature will be convening for the spring session. They only be here for three days, though, and then they’re off to the campaign trail. This year’s primary is absurdity early: Feb. 2.

Regardless, I got three bylines this week, which is not bad for my first week. Here is a quick recap:

1. My first byline was…Drum roll please….a political endorsement! State Sen. and Lt. Gov. candidate Matt Murphy picked up a big endorsement from Sen. Majority Leader Christine Radogno. Here is the info:

SPRINGFIELD — Republican Matt Murphy was endorsed Wednesday in his bid for lieutenant governor from the state’s first female leader in the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, is endorsing Murphy, a state senator from Palatine, in his run for the No. 2 job in Illinois.

Radogno said Murphy is the only statewide candidate she is endorsing in the February primaries.

Here is the link. Check it out!

2. The Obama’s proposed plan to buy the Thomson prison in northwestern Illinois and turn it into a federal prison that would house terrorist detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has caused quite the stir statewide. Democrats, including Sen. Dick Durbin, are mostly for the plan, while Republicans, including Rep. Mark Kirk, are mostly against it. They contend the plan would turn the small town into “Gitmo North.” Another big criticism from state legislators is the lack of say they have in the sale. Some are upset Quinn can sell the state asset without approval from the General Assembly.

As a result, two representatives have proposed a bill that would require the General Assembly to approve all sales of state-owned property valued at $1 million or more. Whether it actually goes anywhere is anybody’s guess. But here is the primarily info:

SPRINGFIELD — Lawmakers would have to approve all sales of expensive state property, including the Thomson prison in northwestern Illinois, under legislation pending in the House.The proposal would require the state to receive approval from the General Assembly before selling unused, state-owned property valued at $1 million or more.

Property must also be unused for six years or three years plus three foreseeable years.

The Thomson prison, which is worth more than $100 million, would fall under these categories.

And the link.

I was surprised to see this get so much play on the Pantagraph’s web site. But it is a very hot issue that is only going to get more volatile as the campaign season heats up.

3. And last, but not least, a preview of Quinn’s State of the State address on Wednesday. This piece was co-written by myself and the Lee bureau chief, Kurt Erickson. And a fancy quote:

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn will shine a spotlight on himself Wednesday when he makes a pre-election address to a joint session of the Illinois General Assembly.

Not only will the speech kick off the spring legislative session, but it also will serve as the unofficial start of the sprint toward the finish line of the primary election season.

The address is (surprise!) a statement on the state of Illinois. Every governor delivers one once a year. It should be noted that the speech will be separate from Quinn’s budget address in March. But the budget has to be the focal point of the speech because the state is in possibly the worst fiscal condition it has ever been in. I wonder, how will Quinn be realistic without being horribly pessimistic? I doubt he can be…And to make matters more interesting, the primary election is only three weeks away. I know, I know. It’s absurb to have the election in dead of winter. But, regardless, it is coming. And some are wondering how that will affect the tone of the speech…

Oh, and the link.

Well that was my first week. Not incredibly enthralling but fun nonetheless. Stay tuned for more posts from the daily grind!

Image posted by Flickr user myoldpostcards. It is used under a Creative Commons license.

Written by csessig

January 10, 2010 at 8:10 pm