MCOM 256. Our Path Ahead


Hi all. Well, here we are. Out of an abundance of caution and the recommendations of public health officials, we will not be meeting for the foreseeable future. I’ll miss seeing you all in person. I was just getting to know your names!! Honest. So let’s forge ahead best we can. I’ll be using this site AND Blackboard to post lessons, assignments, updates, writing tips, and all other course-related posts and materials.

We have moved our Midterm to March 25.  The plan right now is to put it online on Blackboard. You will have access to the exam for a determined period of time. I need to connect with staff at TU Blackboard support to ensure this works perfectly. So update TK.

I realize your assignment #2 is now impossible, as nearly all public events are being canceled! In its place, I will give you an assignment I was going to do in class that involves a PowerPoint slide with some other information. I will need to send those details through Blackboard as I’m not sure I can post a slideshow here.

Otherwise, please reach out to me with any questions. I’m getting used to teaching remotely. Never done this before. But I’ll try to be as responsive as I can and get back to you within 24 hours. Again, whatever I can do over the phone or in-person (if permissible), I’m willing to do.

More info TK in an email! Best, Prof. Rienzi.

Next Class, Midterm

Next class due will be what’s called a precis, a summary pitch of your story #2 (advance story). Find a newsworthy event in the future to write an advance story about. Ideally, something taking place in late March, April or May. Pick something that has some news qualities (impact, useful, proximity, celebrity, conflict, etc.) that we discussed earlier in the term. One or two paragraphs on what event you want to advance about and why it’s newsworthy. Remember that you have to get a quote from the event organizer or spokesperson, so keep that in mind when picking the event. Will this person be accessible to me? We will go over more details about the story next week.


Next week will also be the midterm. Here are some things that will be on the exam:

• Newsworthy qualities (see above)

• Inverted pyramid structure

• Summary leads. What’s in a lead. Delay ID rule. Length. Structure. et al.

• Proper quote and attribution form.

• Sentence structure. I will give some poorly written sentence and you will rewrite them to conform to proper grammar and news writing style.

• Active voice vs. passive voice.

• Associated Press Style. (Bring your books! I might let you use them for the exam)

• Elements of news writing. (Objective, simple sentences, readability, jargon and cliche free, etc.)

• Like we’ve done in class. I will give you some basic details and you will have to write a summary lead using that information.





Leads and Story Structure/Next Class

Last class we covered lots of ground. We mainly focused on summary leads and what goes into them. The 5Ws (Who, What, Where, When and Why) and How. And the occasional “So What?” We also talked about Delayed ID and attribution. These are all the choices you have to make when deciding what goes into a lead, and what can come later. Yes, you want specifics and details, but some need to be put further down in your story. Look at this Washington Post story below. The writer decided that the WHERE and WHEN elements were relatively week and didn’t need to be included in the lead, so he delayed them to the second sentence. The SO WHAT comes even later. Ultimately, you want to place the emphasis and focus on what “the news” is.

[WHO] Tesla [WHAT] is working on a battery that can power your home [WHY] and even help large-scale utilities  store energy more efficiently, [ATTRIBUTION] according to company chief executive Elon Musk.

[WHERE] On an investor call [WHEN] Wednesday, Musk said the designs for a home or business battery are already complete and will likely be unveiled to the public “in the next month or two.” Production could be as little as six months away, he added.

“It’s really great. I’m really excited about it,” said Musk.

[SO WHAT?] Tesla says its battery and charging technology could ultimately wind up saving you money on your electric bill. Although many of today’s homes draw energy directly from the electricity grid, the spread of cheap solar panels means it’s never been easier to generate some of your own energy. Storing renewables efficiently has been a big bottleneck for consumers and for utilities alike, but if Tesla’s stationary battery takes off, it could change the way electricity is priced and traded on a market scale. (For years, it’s been many people’s dream to sell excess energy back to the grid.)…..

For homework, we did summary lead exercises from the handout, like this one. Look at how we start a story like this, and where we place the focus and emphasis. Notice how the sentences and paragraphs are constructed, and where the punctuation goes. What you choose to put the in the lead involves news judgement. Focus on the most newsworthy aspect, and then the rest becomes supporting details.

Three to four children, most under age 1, die every day in the United States from child abuse or neglect, according to a new study from the Child Abuse Prevention Center.

Seventy-nine percent of the deaths were among children under age 5. The study also claimed that the number of child abuse or neglect cases increased by 200,000 from the previous year, ticking up to 2.7 million.

“The numbers are very disturbing and illustrate the gravity of this issue,” said Jane McPerry, the center’s director. “My hope is that this serves as a wake-up call for families and authorities.”



Due next week is Story #1, the accident story handout. Follow AP Style, use proper quote and attribution form. Write tight and focused. Post to Blackboard. Please email me with any questions. 

…more on the advance stories

The paper due on March 25 will be an Advance Story, one that alerts your readers to an interesting and newsworthy upcoming event or opening. You see these all the time for scheduled press conferences/announcements, speaking engagements, symposia, exhibit openings, festivals, groundbreakings, etc. Look for all the news qualities we’ve talked about in case: proximity, timeliness, celebrity, unusual, conflict, impact, usefulness, and so on. Where to find ideas? Look in your Towson University email, specifically Towson Tigers Today or the official TU broadcast email. Look at the school’s Events calendar. Look at all the TU offices who schedule campus-wide events. And that’s just Towson. Trust me, you’ll find something. What I would do is collect a list of three to four possible stories, and then rank their newsworthiness. Ultimately pick something that will make a good story and will interest you. You’ll have to do some reporting on this one, meaning looking up background from reliable sources and interviewing at least one primary source.

Here (below) is another example of an advance story. Notice how it’s just the facts. No opinion or judgement. Don’t “promote” the event, just give the relevant details. I’m thinking the story will be anywhere from 150 to 600 words depending on the news value and how much background or details need to go into the piece. Just the relevant details, with the most important higher up in the story.

(Towson, MD.) More than 30 employers, from private local firms to international companies, will descend upon campus this weekend as part of Towson University’ s annual job fair.

Participants can meet with company officials, learn how to craft the perfect resume, apply for internships, and otherwise get a leg up on joining the workforce.

Employers scheduled to attend include Siemens, IBM, Legg Mason, PNC Bank, Rouse Co. and Under Armour.

The job fair, started in 1987, has increased in popularity in recent years. University officials estimated that over 800 students attended last year’s event.

“With the job market being so competitive, students are looking to gain any edge they can,” said Barbara Luckett, director of Towson’s Office of Career Services, the event’s sponsor. “Getting face-to-face with a possible future employer is a great first step.”

The fair will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4 and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 5 in the Student Union. No registration is necessary.

For a full list of participating employers, go to

[What is missing? What would make this a better story and have a wider readership appeal?]

Here is another advance story sample. Look at how her bio/background details are used.

And here is one from the Washington Post.  And one from the Baltimore Sun.

Advance Story

Here is the advance story sample. This upcoming assignment will be Story # 2 and it’s due March 25.

Below is the original calendar listing for this event. You’ll find something like this on the university’s news page, a press release, a flier, or as the subject of an email. This is just a starting point, as it’s not written as a story and there are a bunch of relevant details missing. That’s where you (the reporter) come in. Your job is to flush a story out like this by interviewing a primary source, in this case the event organizer, and using trusted sources for background.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month at Towson University will kick off on April 4 with the first Teal Tuesday of the month and a talk by Wagatwe Wanjuki, a national campus anti-violence advocate who appeared in the 2015 documentary The Hunting Ground

Teal Tuesdays is a national social activism campaign that encourages people to wear teal clothing and/or teal ribbons to demonstrate their support for survivors of sexual violence. Teal ribbons will be available at multiple locations on campus for students, faculty, and staff to wear to spread awareness about sexual violence, demonstrate support for survivors of sexual assault, and promote open dialogue and action to end rape culture.

Wanjuki’s talk “Back to Basics: Learning the Truth About Sexual Assault and Rape Culture” will begin at 7 p.m. in Hodson 110. Many other events are planned during the month to spread awareness about sexual violence and promote open dialogue and action to end rape culture.

More information about sexual assault awareness events at Towson University is available on the Counseling Center’s website.


This event is clearly newsworthy. It features someone prominent and has impact because this issue of sexual assault affects a large number of people nationwide. There is also conflict, because many feel not enough is being done to combat this issue. The proximity characteristic is of course that this event is taking place here at Towson. Lead with what is most newsworthy! Be objective. Use primary and trusted sources. We talked about this in class. No Wikipedia. Don’t even trust details in another writer’s story. This is all original content. Attribute where necessary. See below for a sample story. Notice how it’s structured and organized. This piece might be longer than what you hand in, and that’s OK. Just include what you feel are the relevant details. No need to promote the event either. Let the facts tell the story and compel the reader.



Nationally-recognized writer and activist Wagatwe Wanjuki will come to Towson University on April 4 to talk about combating sexual assault and rape culture on college campuses.

One in five women in college are sexually assaulted, according to the latest statistics from RAINN, a nonprofit anti-sexual assault organization. However, only a fraction of these crimes are reported, and even fewer result in punishment for the perpetrators.

The event, hosted by the university’s Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU), will kick off  Towson’s programming for Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Teal Tuesdays, a national social activism campaign that encourages people to wear teal clothing or ribbons to demonstrate support for survivors of sexual violence.

Wanjuki is a national advocate against sexual violence on college campuses. Her work was prominently featured in CNN’s 2015 documentary The Hunting Ground. The film, which earned two Emmy nominations, follows undergraduate rape survivors pursuing both their education and justice, despite ongoing harassment and the devastating toll on them and their families. Since the film’s premiere at Sundance, The Hunting Ground has been screened at the White House and hundreds of college campuses across the country. The documentary has also inspired new sexual assault laws in New York and California, and changes in campus policies.

A survivor of sexual violence herself, Wanjuki has spoken openly about her time at Tufts University in the mid-2000s. After she reported her assailant, the school failed to act, leaving her feeling devastated and alone. In 2009, she launched a campaign for a better sexual assault policy at Tufts University and has continued to work for a world free of gender-based violence.

In July 2016, Wanjuki co-founded the anti-rape organization Survivors Eradicating Rape Culture. The group’s inaugural campaign, #JustSaySorry, received international media attention with its first livestreaming video, which racked up over 7 million views in one week. The video featured Wanjuki burning a Tufts University sweatshirt on Facebook.

As a sought-out writer on social issues, Wanjuki has been published in various media outlets including BuzzFeed, Feministing, Upworthy,, and The New York Times. Her commentary on sexual violence and related issues appearances include The Daily Show, CNN, and MSNBC. She’s also a sought-out speaker on the college lecture circuit.

Anna Hasche, the outreach chair for SARU, said that inviting speakers like Wanjuki to speak on campus is important because they bring a respected voice to timely issues.

“There’s not a lot of public healing spaces or even public forums to talk about this issue,” Hasche said. “Assault isn’t talked about enough, but also, when it does happen, when you’re recovering, the way society makes you feel about it, the messages you receive are rooted in shame.”

Hasche said that Wanjuki was a good speaker to start Sexual Assault Awareness Month because her story introduced many different themes the group wanted to highlight, particularly the intersectionality of the experiences of survivors.

“Intersectionality is definitely really important,” Hasche said. “With the variety of stories, it’s important to hear that you’re not hearing this one narrative. Generally the stereotypical victim is some little, traditionally attractive white girl at a frat party, and then you’re just excluding so many people from that narrative, and that’s really not working to build a community or making people feel supported.”

Hasche said that the other events hosted by SARU this month will build on the themes introduced by Wanjuki. Some of these events include a workshop for the national Monument Quilt project, a Title IX educational event, and an alcohol and consent campaign at Spring Fair. She said that through these events, SARU hopes to provide a space for discussion and healing for survivors and allies alike.

“Like [Wanjuki] was talking about, finding your voice,” Hasche said. “That’s definitely something a lot of people, especially survivors, struggle with, and so I think events like this really create a space physically for that to happen and promote that both emotionally and also just through dialogue.”

Wanjuki’s talk, “Back to Basics: Learning the Truth About Sexual Assault and Rape Culture,” is free and open to the public. It will be held at 7 p.m. in Hodson Hall room 110.

For more information about sexual assault awareness events at Towson University, go to PUT URL HERE OF THE SITE YOU WANT TO POINT PEOPLE TO.



Finding the Lead

New Yorker writer John McPhee says, “The first part‑the lead, the beginning‑is the hardest part of all to write. I’ve often heard writers say that if you have written your lead you have 90 percent of the story.” Locating the lead, he says, is a struggle.

“You have tens of thousands of words to choose from, after all‑and only one can start the story, then one after that, and so forth. . . . What will you choose?” McPhee asks.

But before the words can be selected, the facts must be sorted out. How does the reporter select the one or two facts for a lead from the abundance of material he or she has gathered? What’s the focus of the story?

Fact sifting begins well before the reporter sits down to write. Experienced reporters agree with journalists John W. Chancellor and Walter R. Mears, who say: “We have found that a way to write good leads is to think of them in advance ­to frame the lead while the story is unfolding.”

Story #1

Turn the following information into a short news story, approximately four to six paragraphs. Use inverted pyramid structure and AP style. Make corrections as necessary. Try to write tight, active sentences and omit unnecessary wording. Don’t repeat facts, but you con elaborate on something that you already mentioned. Be objective, don’t refer to yourself. Due March 4 at 6:30 p.m. and posted on Blackboard site.

 NOTE: This item will appear in a daily newspaper that comes out on Wednesday, the day after the accident.

What: A Peter Pan tour bus overturned. At least twenty people were injured, according to authorities (police and firemen) you spoke with on the scene. No other cars were damaged, although the accident caused a severe traffic jam the rest of the afternoon.

Where: Bus was on interstate 290 when it overturned, specifically of an off-ramp to route 12 in Auburn, Mass.

When: This happened on a Tuesday afternoon, about 2 pm.

How and why: Police are not certain how/why the accident occurred. Although high winds could have been a contributing factor

More what: This particular bus can carry up to 60 people. Police were uncertain how many people were on board at the time of the accident. Most of the injuries were minor. One person was seriously injured with a back injury and had to be rushed to Saint Vincent Hospital, located in Worcester, Mass.  The man, in his 50s, is currently in stable condition.

Some comments from Massachusetts State Trooper Scott Range (one of the people you spoke with at the scene):

“This could have been a lot worse, and it’s a miracle no other vehicles were involved.”

No further details were immediately released.

[Towson U.] swimmer wins gold at Pan-Am Games

By Greg Rienzi

Katie Ledecky celebrates after winning the women's 800-meter freestyle during the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha, Neb., July 1. At age 15, Ledecky is the youngest member of the U.S. team competing in the London summer games. (CNS photo/Jeff Haynes, Reuters) (July 19, 2012) See OLYMPICS-LEDECKY July 19, 2012.

(TORONTO, 7:30 p.m.) Mandy Reynolds, a 19-year-old Towson University sophomore, bested a personal record by nearly four seconds to secure gold on Wednesday in the women’s 100m freestyle at the Pan-American Games, held in Toronto.

The Long Island, NY-native swam a time of 58.42 seconds to beat a field of eight, which included pre-race favorite Gretchen Williams, 23, of Canada.

Reynolds, participating in her first Pan-Am Games, will vie for another medal on Saturday when she competes in the 200m butterfly.

The games, held every four years, are an Olympic-style competition for athletes from all nations of the Americas.

Last Class, Up Next

Last class we dug into What is News? and qualities of news:

  • Impact
  • Proximity
  • Conflict
  • Timely
  • Human Interest
  • Unusual
  • Helpful
  • Celebrity/Prominence
  • Consumer
  • Trend

We also started talking about characteristics of newswriting and journalism.

Due when we meet next is the news analysis of a front page (print or website) of a news story. I’m looking for straight news. Careful not to pick an editorial or opinion piece. I went over this in class, but I’m looking for you to dissect the story’s content: sentences, paragraphs, structure, order, use of details, language, tone, quotes, objectivity, etc.. What news qualities does the story have? Why is it newsworthy? Most compelling turn of phrase or sentence. What detail or word choice impressed you the most? Was the story effective? What could have been added or done better? I don’t think I mentioned word count in class. No more than two pages!

We’ll have another AP style quiz when we meet next. Bring your book!