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.










Published by Rienzi

A writer/teacher based in Maryland. Former New Yorker and avid baseball fan. You can often find me running, although not from anyone in particular.

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