Class notes, Thursday March 31

In class: Profile subject pitches! 

For profile feature stories due Thursday, April 14.


  • Three source minimum (this means two other sources IN ADDITION to the person you’re profiling)
  • 1,000 words minimum.
  • At least one portrait photo (you may include other media formats – that’s optional)

Profile writing advice:

NYTimes: How to write a profile feature

From PoynterWhat it takes to craft an excellent profile: 

The NYT ran a great profile of one of the best interviewers, Terry Gross — great read for both profile-writing and interviewing!


Successful student-written profiles from past classes:

Billy Brewer: Moments in time

Just shy of his team’s own goal line, Ole Miss defensive back Chucky Mullins lay motionless on the field. Then-head coach Billy Brewer, in his short-sleeve light blue button-down dress shirt and bright red pants, runs as far as he could go to the north end zone, near Mullins, where he could see him clearly.

Brewer knew Mullins was seriously hurt.

“I thought he was dead,” Brewer said. “I thought he lost his life. I thought he was dead on the field. I walked to the hash mark and stopped.”

IT WAS OCT. 28, 1989, AND Ole Miss WAS playing against Vanderbilt on Oct. 28, 1989 in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Just minutes before, Brewer remembers SAW  [you keep switching back and forth from past to present – pick one and stick with it…] Mullins on his immediate right side entering the stadium. Vanderbilt, Brewers also remembers, took the opening kickoff, and the ball was on about the 20-yard line.

Then it happened.

“The ball was thrown high and behind him, and Chucky Mullins was a free safety at the time, and he turned his body,” Brewer said. “He weighed about 225 pounds. What he did, Chucky hit him in the middle of his back, but he had his head down — the top of his helmet in his back.

“What it did, the doctors told me later, it broke his neck. They said it’s like putting a hand grenade down the back of your shirt. It’s just an explosion, and every vertebra just exploded. That’s what paralyzed him. He had no movement anywhere. Only thing he could move were his eyes, and he could talk.” GREAT QUOTE, BRUTALLY VIVID DETAIL

When the trainers and team doctors cut his facemask off, Brewer knew it was more than serious. Not until halftime did he know that Mullins had broken his neck, then he had to tell the team, and of course, they were just in shock, he remembers.

Mullins was airlifted to Memphis right after. The next week Ole Miss returned to the field and played LSU at home, and by this time, Mullins’ story had made national news.

“The stadium just became totally quiet,” Brewer said. “You could hear a pin drop. Not a person. You couldn’t hear a whisper; you couldn’t hear anything. It was just dead silence. And this thing [WHAT THING??] just went on and on. [If part of a quote raises more questions than it answers, lose it]

“The next week, they passed these Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets up and down the aisles of the rows of the stadium, and people put cash money in there. I think it was something like $245,000 or $275,000, and that started the ball rolling.”

Clay Cavett, associate director of the Ole Miss Alumni Association, who was an employee working for the university at the time and took part in alumni meetings and traveled with Brewer AS AN OLE MISS EMPLOYEE, said he turned a lot of these kids, like Mullins, into men.

“The way that Billy handled that whole situation, as a coach and a father figure to Chucky, was amazing,” Cavett said. “Billy filled that role (as a father figure), like he did for a lot of guys. He loved his players, and they loved him.

“That was a tough deal for Billy, I know, with Chucky’s accident the next few years with Chucky’s health and then when he passed away. THIS IS CONFUSING…MIGHT WANT TO USE ELLIPSES TO SHORTEN. It was a tough deal for him because he cared.”

Brewer flashes back again, and the conversation shifts from the 1989 football season to the 1983 football season, his first season as head coach at his alma mater.

Ole Miss lost five of its first six games to start the 1983 season, before rattling off wins against TCU, Vanderbilt, LSU and Tennessee to even its record at 5-5, setting up the Egg Bowl in Jackson between Ole Miss and Mississippi State, in which the winner would go to the Independence Bowl.

Mississippi State led 21-0 before Ole Miss returned a punt for a touchdown right before the half in the midst of tornado warnings and 50-60 mph winds. Ole Miss eventually came back and won the game, 24-23, on a missed field goal by Mississippi State kicker Artie Crosby.

“He was kicking against the wind,” Brewer said. “And he hit it in the screws. I mean he nailed it. It got to the crossbar and stopped, and it reversed like an airplane. GREAT QUOTE!

“As he kicked it, it looked like it was going through (the uprights). We were on the visitor’s side in Memorial Stadium. It was State fans, wall to wall, and they stood up and cheered. All of a sudden, they sit down, and the Ole Miss fans behind us got up and cheered, and we won the football game.”

Brewer, who played on legendary coach John Vaught’s 1959 Ole Miss national championship team as a quarterback and defensive back, finished as the second-winningest coach in Ole Miss history, with a 67-56-3 in 11 seasons, second only to Vaught.

He still lives in Oxford. He still supports the university. He still goes out for practice. WOULD WORK BETTER AS THE ENDING His legacy lives on, as his son, Gunter, was an assistant on last year’s coaching staff, and his grandson, Keaton, who graduated from Ole Miss last year.

Keaton remembered going to games when he was little, while his grandfather was head coach, and history came alive for him when he walked in the footsteps of his grandfather on the Ole Miss campus.

“When I first got up to Ole Miss, he and I walked around campus, and he showed me where he used to live in the dorm and the rituals they went through, ” he said.

Now [HOW OLD?], Brewer still lives in Oxford. He still supports Ole Miss, of course. And he still goes out for practice.



From Tragedy to Triumph    

Racing go-carts is more than just a sport to Pontotoc, Miss. native Dusty Dowdy.  It’s a nostalgic time machine that transports him to the time and place where he spent countless hours with his stepfather. GREAT LEAD

Dowdy narrates his story with a sweet Southern drawl that would force a sincere smile across even the most cynical man’s face. “My stepdaddy came into my life when I was about two years old,” he said. “He was the only father figure I knew and was more of a dad to me than my own father.”

Dowdy’s stepfather, Bill Tedford, took him to the racetrack for the first time when he was four years old 4-years-old. Tedford taught him the intricate details of the sport, such as the precise tactic of distributing weight on a chassis and creating bite with tires. Most importantly, he introduced him to some of the state’s leading competitors and familiarized him with the complex jargon used among racing enthusiasts.

“It created a bond between us kinda like a mother and her daughter shopping,” Dowdy said. “It’s a common interest that you share and it gives you time to talk to each other about your lives.”

Dowdy’s infatuation with the sport grew when he was finally eligible to compete in his first race when he was 8-years-old in Baldwin, Miss. “I was in a yard-cart, more or less,” Dowdy said. “The track was really bumpy, and I had 5-inch race tires running on basically nothing but speed bumps. Beat the piss out of me. We only got three laps, but I won it. Still got my trophy.”

Dowdy may have experienced his first taste of victory that day, but it was certainly not his last. Over the next four years, he, along with his brother and stepbrother, won approximately 175 more races.

The 24-year-old man’s upbeat tone quickly changes to a childlike whisper when he recalls the day his stepfather and racing mentor died.

“It’s easy to remember every part of that day: May 26, 2001 ” Dowdy said. “I was 13 and we were headed to a race in Booneville. It was raining that afternoon, and everything seemed funny.”

On the way to the race, Tedford’s tire blew out. He was only able to drive a few miles down the road before the tire blew out again.  “It was the kind of day that, no matter what, you don’t belong there,” Dowdy said. GREAT QUOTE.

After arriving at the race, Dowdy and his stepbrother, Billy, had one practice run and were preparing for their first races. “My stepdad goes to Billy and tells him good luck,” Dowdy said. “Then (he) trips on his own feet, falls back and hits his head on the ground. His eyes rolled back in his head and he died right there… scariest day of my life.”

It would have been easy for Dowdy to give up racing for good, but he chose to transform his tragedy into triumph. He used the racetrack, the same site of his stepfather’s untimely death, as a catalyst to reminiscence happy times they spent together.

“Every time I go out on that track, I can feel his presence there with me,” Dowdy said. “It pushes me to be a better racer.”

Dusty has since won six state championships and has gained a full understanding of what it takes to be a successful racer.

Madison Helms, Dowdy’s girlfriend of seven years, has personally witnessed the hard work he has put into his craft.

“Dusty is such a hard worker,” Helms said. “He’s the type of guy that when you give him a project, he’s going to finish it and work on it until it is complete and done right. He doesn’t halfway do anything. It’s either all or nothing with him.”

After racing for 16 years, Dowdy’s favorite aspect of the sport has not changed since he was an 8-year-old novice.

“Nothing beats the camaraderie of the racers on and off the track,” said Dowdy. “You’re there to compete but it’s more about spending time with the other racers that you have become friends with over the years. If you need help, there’s always someone there you can count on.”

Helms says that Dowdy is humble when it comes to his expertise in the field.

“There are at least six grown men that call him every week –multiple times per week– asking for help because he is so knowledgeable about racing,” she said. “There are few things that I have found that he cannot do. He’s a true handy man.” THIS IS YOUR WEAKEST QUOTE – I WOULD REORGANIZE THE STRUCTURE SO THAT YOU END WITH SOMETHING STRONGER

Nice, clean writing — but you’re missing some basic info about racing  – yes, it’s a profile of a racer, but the reader doesn’t know what that entails from reading this story.



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