Story #5. Feature. Extra Credit

Story #5 will now be used as extra credit. Similar to the vignette you wrote for story #4, a news feature is just more flushed out and requires a nut or focus graph. What is the story about? ENTERPRISE STORY: News Feature/Profile: This should be based on one to three (in-person or Zoom interviews) and focus on the material developed from your questioning of the subjects. Stories can focus on societal trends (e.g., body piercing, health habits), community issues (crime, construction) and events (a milestone anniversary of one or new event.) Follow-ups to hard news stories are also fine. You may also decide to do a profile. For example, you could write a story on a local politician, Towson athlete, faculty member or anybody with a unique and interesting story to tell. You may not interview your own friends or relatives unless you receive my prior approval. The story should be between 500-1200 words. One possible subject is a profile on a graduating senior, high school or college, as there is a timely new peg with most ceremonies going virtual. Tell his or her story as they prepare for this big moment during anything but an ideal time. Here is an example of a short profile on a graduating student. His story is profound, but everyone has a story to tell.

Jerome Chelliah graduates this May from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with a master’s degree.

Jerome Chelliah, 25, spent his first 11 years as a refugee in Sri Lanka, an island country torn apart by years of civil war. Planes would frequently drop bombs near his home, forcing his family to flee to bunkers for safety. With no police force, crime and violence were rampant.

         Aided by an uncle, Chelliah and his parents emigrated in 2001 to the San Francisco Bay area. “My parents took a chance and said, We’ll go try out America and see if it works,” says Chelliah, an MPH candidate at the Bloomberg School of Public Health who will graduate this May. “When you live in a war zone, everything seems exciting that involves leaving the war zone. But it many ways, America was more of an idea than a country for me.”

Chelliah is just one of more than [place # here] of students who will graduate this May from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

         The transition to life in the United States was far from seamless. Chelliah had to learn English. His parents, who hadn’t graduated from high school, couldn’t find jobs right away to sustain the family. And, for the first time, Chelliah had to confront an array of prejudices. In Sri Lanka, he says, everyone was poor, but now he lived among affluence. “I had been poor my whole life, but this was the first time I dealt with poverty in a tangible way.” He also realized he was now considered a minority and “a person of color,” with their own unique realities. And, when he came of age, he says, he realized he was gay.

         Chelliah says he had a difficult time expressing to his parents his inner turmoil, for fear he would upset them, as they had sacrificed so much to start over. He turned to food for solace. “I basically ate my feelings,” he says. “All I did was eat and study.” The 5-foot-10 young man entered high school weighing 250 pounds.

         “High school was probably the most difficult time of my life,” he says. “I had to live life on multiple boundaries of prejudice. It became hard to parse out where the prejudices came from.”

         In his junior year, Chelliah came to a turning point. He decided to take ownership of his destiny and told himself: Either you can let life happen you, or happen you.

         “That became my mantra. The very fact that I survived a civil war meant that I must utilize my life for something larger than myself.”

         He dedicated himself to self-improvement. He found fitness and portion control, and during that summer shed some 40 pounds. As a senior, he applied himself to studies like never before. He enrolled at the University of California, Davis to pursue a degree in neurobiology, then took a year off to teach in a private high school in Sacramento before going to medical school at the University of California, San Francisco. After his third year, he applied to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to explore health care management and the health of populations. He was awarded a Sommer Scholar scholarship, which provided full tuition and a stipend.

         At JHU, Chelliah learned many valuable lessons, he says, such as working as a team on issues much larger than your own.

         “For us to have individual triumph, we need to be thinking about collective triumph. That is one big thing I’m taking away from here,” says Chelliah, who now will return to UCSF to finish his final year of medical school. After his residency, he says, he has his sites on health administration, ideally in the LGBT arena.



Hi All: First, I’m alive. Second, my devices doing a very poor job of alerting me with pings on my Outlook and Blackboard apps. General course update is there WILL be a Final exam (of sorts) to be posted on Blackboard. Don’t worry about prep. I have a plan. This will NOT be a cumulative exam. Quick and painless.

I’m posting grades for all ungraded papers today and likely into tomorrow.

I’ll let your revise stories. Just focus on that. Paper #5 information to follow in separate post.

Story #4. COVID-19 Vignettes


For our next assignment, I want you to write a short story about someone impacted by our current health crisis. Let’s be clear, we all are. You should have no problem finding a business owner, a healthcare worker, a police officer, a teacher, anyone who HAS had his or her life and routine upended. But look beyond your roommate and into your community. Who has a really good (and newsworthy) story tell. Think about everything we’ve learned about newsworthiness: timely, human interest, celebrity, impact, unusual, etc.. Find a person who is compelling.


Word count: 350-600





RUBRIC: 50 points writing quality, 20 points AP Style adherence, 20 points newsworthiness, 10 points structure/following guidelines of assignment

What I’m asking for is often called a vignette, or also bright or slice-of-life piece. It’s not always a complete narrative, but a short and detailed look at someone’s situation or a piece of that person’s life. They often feature a lead image of the subject that helps tell the story. My magazine has a department called Vignette, a two-page spread where we feature someone doing something interesting. Here is one on an alum Brent Neale Winston who started a line of jewelry.  This is not Brent’s definitive story, but rather a short look into her life as a designer. The photo and copy fulfill the same purpose.

CNN recently ran a series of vignettes of those working inside hospitals.

I really liked this one.

‘I may be the last face they see’

Dr. Cory Deburghgraeve, an anesthesiologist at the University of Illinois in Chicago, said he’s working 94 hours this week. He’s the designated “airway anesthesiologist” giving coronavirus patients breathing tubes in a procedure called intubation.

Deburghgraeve shared a video with CNN of him donning his PPE, putting on gloves, a protective gown, a face mask and then another mask that looks like a space helmet.

Intubation, he said, is considered a high-risk procedure “because we are so close to the patient’s mouth while placing the tube and they often cough up secretions which releases virus into the air we breathe.”

'Are we swamped? Without a doubt': Voices from the Covid-19 front line

Deburghgraeve said he and his colleagues have been “shocked” at the ages of some of their patients. He’s had several in their 30s, 40s and 50s, he said. The coronavirus, he warned, doesn’t just affect older people.

“What’s very devastating for me is some people we know will not survive,” he said, “and since they’re not allowed to have visitors, I may be the last face they see and voice they hear ever as I put them to sleep (general anesthesia) prior to being on a ventilator.

“So, despite being busy … I try to show extra compassion, extra emotion, try to hold their hands and as much as I can (have) human connection, despite the fact that I’m wearing what looks like a space suit.”

See how this pulls in all the elements of newswriting we’ve been learning: short paragraphs, vivid details, objective, direct quotes, AP style, etc..

Here is one about an artist who projecting memorials to COVID-19 victims that ran in The Washingtonian.

Maybe it’s an image of a closed shop and you interview the owner. Maybe it’s the image of a masked gas station clerk. Maybe a running trail, an you interview someone walking or running wearing a mask. What is their story? Like this..


A Year Without Races

By Greg Rienzi

Veram Alvi, 31, right now would be training for the Berlin Marathon. Today would be a 10-mile tempo run at Loch Raven Reservoir, his usual Saturday morning location. However, the road that is normally closed on weekends to runners and cyclists has been left often, as state officials want to slow the spread of the coronavirus by limiting crowd gatherings, even a mass of people looking to stay fit and active like Alvi.

Alvi also has no race to train for anymore. On April 21, the  news came that the Berlin Marathon, scheduled for Sept. 27, has been canceled due to coronavirus restrictions. According to an announcement on the race’s event page, the marathon can’t be run as scheduled because of an ordinance set in place by the German government prohibiting all events with more than 5,000 people from now until Oct. 24.

So, Alvi today decided to run just 8 miles along the Inner Harbor, starting from the Locus Point neighborhood.

“I want to stay fit and race ready, even with no race of any kind on the horizon,” said Alvi, dressed in navy blue tights, a fitted long-sleeve shirt and a black mask to protect him from catching the virus. “Maybe some other smaller fall marathon stays open, or a later fall race. I don’t want to stop running.”

Alvi says running with the mask is far from ideal. Breathing is rather an important aspect of the activity, he jokes, and he can’t catch a full deep breath. However, when running in locations like this he worries about bumping into a mix of people. “Better to be safe than sorry,” he said. “On roads and trails near my house I don’t wear a mask, but here in downtown on a Saturday I thought it was the smart thing to do.”

Alvi, who works as a research technician for CBH Health, says that running gives him an outlet to relieve the stress of anxiety of his job. He recently converted to working remote and he worries about being able to return to the lab “when this is all over.”

“Who knows what will happen in a few weeks, months. How long this will continue,” he said.

So, he runs, for a race that might never come, at least not in this calendar year. But maybe 2021, when life will be different.

Like that. Short, but detailed and poignant and relevant for the here and now. The reader understands the context so you don’t have to give them too much detail/background, but some is still useful and important. See how with this sample it’s newsworthy because we got in the timely news of the Berlin Marathon (one of the largest and most popular marathons in the world) and a lot of people can relate to what Alvi is going through in terms of favorite exercise spots being closed. Look for a subject like this.

I will also post a video about this assignment on Blackboard. And please reach out to me with ideas or concepts. Happy to help you pick something worthwhile.










Photo Captions


Owner Mary Paddington, and her daughter Grace, warm up their cat Ms. Whinny backstage at the 2017 Maryland’s Top Feline, an annual best-in-show competition held in Timonium, MD. Ms. Whinny would place second.

This is a sample of a photo caption, an aspect of newswriting. You still use AP style and summarize, but you’re brief and very economical with words. Some general rules on using captions.

• Photo caption (first sentence) should identify the people, place and action in the photo.

• Second sentence (if needed) should lend context and perspective to the photo. Perhaps why the action was significant or how it fits into the bigger picture or story being told.

• Clearly and accurately identify the people and location that appear in the photo.

• Be brief. Write tight. Captions are typically one or two lines. You have to really justify writing three or more.

• Overall, help the reader understand what he or she is looking at. See some samples here at the Washington Post for how captions can convey news and the subject of the image.


For practice. Try the exercise below. We would have done this in class. Send me your captions via emails and I will give you some extra credit in the classwork category for the final grade.



Write a caption for this photo. Here are the facts: The woman running in the photo is Becky Flanagan. She competed in the Life Time Fitness Chicago Triathlon, held this past Sunday, Aug. 30. Becky won the race and set a new swim course record. More than 10,500 diverse triathletes—including former Olympians, physically challenged, elite amateurs and first-time participants—competed in the 28th annual race. Flanagan is 31-years-old.

Feature (story #5) samples

More on story #4 soon. But due the last day of class will be Story #5, the news feature story. Here are some examples of what I mean. You could write about anything, but remember: 1) no conflict of interest, 2) think of the news hook (why now?), 3) use primary, expert sources, 4) focus on one topic.

This year will be unlike any other final assignment in that getting direct access to sources (face-to-face interviews) and places will be difficult. You might have to do Zoom or other video interviews, or get creative. No doubt the COVID-19 pandemic will influence many stories as event’s have been cancelled or reimagined virtually. Profiles will be a solid pick this year, and there is no shortage of newsworthy people out there who have been part of this health crisis, or impacted by it. We can talk more about that but I just wanted to get you thinking of finding a subject to feature for the final paper.

Historical feature, such as this one. The 50th anniversary of the first woman to run the Boston Marathon.

Adventure feature, an exciting or harrowing experience like this one about a boy lost in the waves. 

Seasonal features: tied to season or holiday like Mother’s Day

How to do it features, like a health story about how to breath properly.

Occupation or hobby stories. How about this story of a 17-year-old rock climber.

Behind-the-Scenes feature, like this one on staging a ballet production.

Here is one (more a review, but still OK) on another theater production.

Here is a trend story on Sriracha sauce0002446306109_500X500


A profile on author William ZinsserAutosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH




A feature on a newsworthy place, a kitchen for food start-ups.



Story #3 sample

Below is the beginning of a story a student wrote for my class on the TedxUNC talk given by Johns Hopkins neuroscientist David Linden. 

Note, this is not a the full story, but I liked the beginning and how the student summarized the talk and some of the major points. Prof. Linden did a series of talks around this time, pegged to the release of his fascinating book Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind.

Below are two NPR summaries of Tedx talk so you can see how much of the very same information was used. I think this will help you in turning the talk into a news story that delivers useful information, distilling the most newsworthy and interesting aspects of the talk.

A Sense of Touch

By Susanna []

Psychologists have long studied the significance of nonverbal communication: the vocal tones and facial expressions that relay meaning and portray emotion. For example, a warm soft voice can communicate sweetness, a hostile stare transmit sternness.

Researchers have only recently begun to focus on a different more subtle kind of wordless communication: physical contact. Brief physical touches, whether it be an exuberant high five, a gentle touch on the shoulder, or a creepy touch to the arm, have the ability to communicate a plethora of emotions more quickly and accurately than words.

David Linden, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University, discussed the profoundness of touch during his TedxUNC Talk titled “The Science of Touching and Feeling.” Linden said that the sense of touch is intrinsically emotional.

“To be human is to be emotional, to feel things,” said Linden, a professor in the Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Linden, who has served as the chief editor of the Journal of Neurophysiology for 10 years,  has focused his research on memory storage, as well as recovery of the brain function after traumatic injury.

In his talk, Linden said that people can live a very happy and successful life without the sense of sight or sound, but that the absence of touch can result in detrimental social development. He gave the example of Romanian orphans during the Ceausescu regime in the 1970s and 1980s. Due to understaffed orphanages, the youngest children could go days without a human touch, such as being held, hugged or even patted on the head. This touch depravation can have profound effects on development, Linden said, including attachment disorder, stunted growth and poor immune systems.

However, the effects were reversible, if interventions were made within the first two years. “Touch is like super glue,” Linden said. “It’s what binds us together.”

Even the most  casual touches can have a positive impact. One study at the University of California, Berkeley noted that celebratory touches among basketball players, such as a tap on the back after a good play, resulted in improved performance and the team played more cooperatively. Dacher Keltner, a professor psychology at University of California, Berkeley, where he directs the Berkeley Social Interaction Lab, studied every team in the NBA and found that the teams who touched the most won the most.

The actual sensation of touch involves a number of messages from nerve endings to brain. The These messages assign the feeling we receive. Our brain determines if its good or bad, such as  a sexual sensation versus the burning heat of a stove. These nerves allow us to feel the difference between pain, heat, vibration, texture, sexual experience and more.

“We think of touch as a unified sensation, but it’s actually created by many different nerve endings that are specialized to transfer many different feelings,” he said.

And each sensation carries with an emotion, and humans are hard-wired to pay attention to sensations that occur outside of us… [note this story continued, this wasn’t the ending…

News Features: Focus and Nut Graphs

For your next assignment, story #3, you might be inclined to go with a delayed lead. A delayed lead doesn’t give you the 5 Ws, How and So What right up top. Instead, this type of lead entices the reader or lis­tener into the story by hinting at its contents. A delayed lead is often used with feature stories. It could be one sentence long, or several sentences if it’s an anecdotal or narrative lead. Anecdotal leads give an example to illustrate what the story is about. For example, here is an anecdotal lead to a story about Brazil’s murder rate and gun laws by NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro. This came from a good lead is everything  from NPR.

At the dilapidated morgue in the northern Brazilian city of Natal, Director Marcos Brandao walks over the blood-smeared floor to where the corpses are kept. He points out the labels attached to the bright metal doors, counting out loud. It has not been a particularly bad night, yet there are nine shooting victims in cold storage.

We understand right away that the story will be about a high rate of gun-related murder in Brazil. And this is a much more vivid and gripping way of conveying it than if Lulu had simply stated that the rate of gun violence is high.

In any case, the gist of the story gets moved to what is called the focus or nut graph.  In journalism, a nut graph (nutshell paragraph) is a paragraph that explains the context of the story. In essence, it’s very similar to a summary lead, but the structure is a bit different and often builds on what came before it.

Here is the NPR’s story nut graph

Almost 60,000 people were murdered in Brazil in 2014, most with guns. While some Latin American countries have higher per capita murder rates, in absolute numbers, Brazil is the deadliest place in the world outside Syria.

Here is an assignment we would have done in class yesterday.

Write an anecdotal lead based on the following information. It’s a story about apartments that violate city codes and are considered hazardous, but are often rented to students anyway.  Don’t use 1st person. But you can show the subject in action.

You interviewed a student who lives in an attic apartment. His story is similar to the stories of many other students in this neighborhood, known as the Wesley Neighborhood. As you climbed the steps to his apartment, you noticed that duct tape keeps the banister in place on the stairs. Some of the wood step risers are warped or loose. You saw that the kitchen is infested with roaches and you notice mouse traps on the floors. The student, Ted Drake, took you to the bathroom and said it has no electricity. He uses a candle to light the room. The sink itself is rust stained. “It’s a dump,” said Drake, a senior majoring in architecture. “But it was the cheapest thing I could find.” This apartment is located at 1032 Bank St. in Towson.

Here is the nut/focus graph of the story: Drake’s story is becoming all too common. Each year, dozens of unsafe and derelict apartments in Wesley and nearby neighborhoods are rented to area college students.

And here is the story using an anecdotal lead with nut graph:

The [steps] leading to Ted Drake’s Wesley Neighborhood apartment can be [treacherous]. Duct tape keeps the bannister in place and the wood step risers are warped or loose.

The [conditions inside] get even [worse].

His kitchen is infested with mice and roaches. The bathroom lacks electricity and Drake has to wash his face by candlelight over a stained sink.

“It’s a dump,” said Drake, a senior at Towson University majoring in architecture. “But it was the cheapest thing I could find.”

Drake’s story is becoming all too common. Each year, dozens of unsafe apartments in Wesley and nearby neighborhoods are being rented to area college students.

I put in brackets what are called focus words. Focus words are built-in transitions that setup what is to come. When you construct a sentence, where you place certain words and phrases can add impact and help focus the story. It can also help naturally transition you into the next sentence.

The words “steps” and “treacherous” are placed at the beginning and end of the sentence to add impact and reverberate in the head of the reader. Just by placing them there the reader WANTS to know just how treacherous these steps are and what specifically about them makes it so. The next sentence provides that and you don’t need an intervening sentence or phrase to transition you there. The transition is natural and invisible, the way good writing should be.

Likewise, the focus words “conditions’ “inside” and “worse” lead the reader to the next paragraph and set of details. In essence, they foreshadow what is to come. The reader is expecting you to take them inside and show how bad the conditions are in there. Again, no awkward transition needed, the copy just flows.

When you’re building a story, try to find the right focus words and placement for them to move the story forward and lead into details.





Story #3, Ted talks


For story #3, write a news story focused on one of the below Ted talks. Imagine you’re a reporter covering the event, very similar to the Apple Event I posted where they announced the new iPad. That event covered lots of ground and was nearly an hour or longer, but the story focused on the introduction of this new iPad model and what is new about the device and why they are releasing it. What is the specific focus/subject of the talk? What is the NEWS that comes out?  You can delay details about the event itself, or tuck them into a sentence. It’s not important that this person gave a talk or where, but the interesting thing they focus on. Of course, at some point slip in that they

Here is a TedX talk about an author discussing her research and the book that came out of it. And here is the story about the very same event that ran in the newspaper the next day. More recent, a Wired featured on a man who help beat smallpox references and summarizes a Ted talk.  

“Cover” one of these Ted talks. Summarize the talk. All these speakers give very detailed examples of the subject they’re talking about. USE those details and specifics. They will make the story come alive and that much more interesting and authoritative. Attribute where necessary. Use AP style throughout. Aim for active voice whenever possible. Subject-verb-object construction. If you have a long sentence, follow it up with a short one. Don’t insert yourself (or your opinions) in the story. Be objective and let the facts tell the story. Check spelling of EVERYTHING. Accuracy is so important. You can look up these people online to get more background on them, and get their most current affiliations and job titles. There should be a paragraph, or two, where you talk about the person’s background to acknowledge their expertise. For example, here is a podcast talk with research scholar Crystal Watson at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Why is Dr. Watson qualified to talk about this subject? Let the reader know. Like this.

Watson, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, focuses on public health risk assessment, crisis and risk-based decision making, public health and healthcare preparedness and response, biodefense, and emerging infectious disease preparedness and response. From 2012 to 2013, Watson served as program manager for the Integrated Terrorism Risk Assessment program of the Department of Homeland Security.

She recently co-authored a report published by The American Enterprise Institute, in collaboration with faculty from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security,  titled “National Coronavirus Response: A Road Map to Reopening.” The report offers a guide for navigating the entirety of the pandemic, including both recommendations for adapting our public health strategy and milestones for deciding when and how officials should relax physical distancing measures.


Most timely, here is a talk with designer and technologist Marko Russiver talking about The Global Hack, a virtual hackathon

Here is Kate Wagner talking about McMansions.

And here is Matt Walker talking about sleep as your superpower.

And here is Tracy McMillan talking about The Person you Really Need to Marry.

And finally, Nanfu Want talking about growing up under China’s One Child Policy.







Ed Yong, The Atlantic


Ed Yong is perhaps one of the greatest writers I know. Ed is a staff writer for The Alantic, where he covers science.

He has recently written two brilliant pieces about the COVID-19 pandemic. In How The Pandemic Will End, Ed writes with some authority in first person. It’s informed opinion, but still ripe with objective facts, expert quotes and opinions. In Why the Coronavirus Has Been So Successful, Ed is more objective, with traditional narrative, but his voice still shines through. Take a look. You’ll learn something about what we’re all facing, and see how a dedicated professional has elevated the art of science writing.

More Ed here at a TedTalk.


Story Assignment

Hi All:

Due next week will be a short news story announcing a new Coca-Cola limited-edition can campaign. The very short press conference/presentation will be posted on Blackboard with most of the details you need to provide the basis for the story. Often, large companies host such events to promote new goods or campaings. See below for a recent Apple Special Keynote Event.



I’m not trying to promote Apple products, but rather show you how a press event like this turns into news. The event was newsworthy because 1) Apple is a very prominent worldwide company 2) the event featured several major players at Apple, including CEO Tim Cooke, 3) the company’s products and pricing impact a large segment of the population 4) and any new products they unveil creates public interest. There was also some conflict here, as Apple has competition in the education market. All this is why many major media publications covered the event, including The New York Times. See how this 1 hour-plus event was boiled down in this news story. Look at how the authors focused this piece on the announcement of the new iPad model.

On Blackboard will be our own press event, the announcement of the green Coke cans. Due next week is a news story about this announcement. You can use what I give you in the video and slideshow AND supplement with real and relevant information from primary sources about Earth Week, the Coca-Cola Foundation, Coke and others. I added a submission folder on Blackboard for Story #2. A more relevant example of the kind of story I’m talking about can be found here on Marketplace, a short news item about this campaign for a limited-edition Diet Coke cans sold in England last year.