Class notes: April 5, 2016



Point of covering a beat is that you start to know that beat, get familiar with issues, and start writing more focused stories!

**Report more than you’ll use** Maybe what’s left over becomes part of another story…

Make sure that you’re not writing PR pieces — that you’re finding the news ‘hook’ for your story.


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.


What Works assignment for Tuesday, March 29

For your next WHAT WORKS assignment (to be posted on your blog by Thursday), you are to choose ONE of the following profile features and read the story IN ITS ENTIRETY, and explain what, specifically, made the story work overall for you. You may have some critiques of the story, but choose a story you like!

Federer as Religious Experience, New York Times

Lucinda Williams’ Love Affair with loss, The New Yorker

King of the Ferret Leggers, Outside Magazine

Gone Girl:The resilience of Elizabeth Smart

Frank Sinatra Has a Cold: by Gay Talese in Esquire

Brother from Another Mother: Key & Peele, by Zadie Smith

You Belong With Me: Taylor Swift, by  Lizzie Widdicombe

Back in the Day: Michael Jackson, by John Jeremiah Sullivan

A cancer surgeon challenges the status quo: by Katie Hafner

The Game Master: Will Wright, by John Seabrook

Also – Suggested additional reading: Some good advice on Profile Writing from the NYTImes here.

Others can be found here:

Class notes, Thursday March 24

Meeting story notes:

Donald Trump hosts rally in Mississippi – Strong story. Very pro-Trump – is this what you intended? What numbers might you have added to give your story a stronger “backbone”? What did you leave out, and why?


Great “big picture” lead!

The Courthouse Square Preservation Commission decided that a future restaurant coming to The Square would have to find an alternative way to advertise business information during their Monday afternoon meeting.

Good “explainer” graph:

March marks the beginning of The University of Mississippi’s planning phase of an event that will host up to 1,000 guests next January for an event known as a TEDx Talk.

TED, which has been around since 1984 brings intellectuals together in one venue to share their ideas with audience members that can number in the millions worldwide. While not everyone can host a TED Talk, independent organizers can orchestrate similar events called TEDx Talks.

Good first quote:

“We wanted the chance to bring our ideas that are produced here on this campus and that are by our friends and alumni to bring them to the world,” says Dr. Marvin King co-founder of the TedX organization at the University of Mississippi.

Great set-up and quote: 

Akers main concern for extending longer service of the OUT system is that people would not actually be riding the buses.

“The worst PR that could happen to transit is that you have buses that no one is on,” Akers said.

TedX, Parking commission, Transit:



DON’T GET CAUGHT UP IN “INSIDE BASEBALL”  [Carol Robinson presided over the meeting and called it to order at 2:04 pm. After the minutes from the previous two meetings were voted upon, and each board member gave a brief report from their respective divisions, Transit Commission Board member, Jean Robinson who attended the ASB forum voiced some of the student’s concerns…]



Shooting photo/video sequences:

In class: Choose a classmate’s photo sequence to review. You will be asked to tell the story based on what you see, of a story other than your own.



Shooting photo and video sequences

From the Mulin blog:

In class exercise: Choose one of your past beat stories and create a SHOT LIST


Assignment due Thursday:

Produce a FIVE-SHOT MINIMUM photo or video sequence

This can be on a subject of your choice, but the sequence should TELL A STORY!

You can publish the sequence on the platform of your choice – your WordPress blog, on, on Storify if you prefer – but your sequence should have the following:


2. A CAPTION giving context to what the viewer is looking at, as well as any identifying names, titles, locations.


(for stills):

  • the scene setter
  • the medium shot
  • the portrait shot
  • the detail shot
  • a shot capturing action

(for video):

  • A closeup on the hands of a subject – showing WHAT is happening
  • A closeup on the face – WHO is doing it
  • A wide shot – WHERE it is happening
  • An over the shoulder shot (OTS) – HOW it is being done (note that OTS is not listed as one of the five types, but it is in the original NPR story)
  • An unusual, or side/low shot – providing other details (note that this is not one of the five types either, but again it is seen in the NPR story in the form of closeup shots showing relevant details)


Also due Thursday: Bring in your story pitch for your next beat story.
**Please note: This assignment will also require a photo or video sequence…you may want to think about stories that will lend themselves well to images.**


Meeting story reminders

Your meeting story still  has a three-source minimum – however, there is no word count minimum (I don’t want a bunch of filler if not much happened).

***THAT SAID…a story shorter than 400 words isn’t really a story, and you should probably pick another meeting to cover if you couldn’t get any more out of it.***

There is no photo requirement for the meeting story – text only.


Class notes, Tuesday March 8

Please note: You do NOT have a Beat story due this week (as previously posted in the syllabus) – instead you need to file your  MEETING STORY within 24 hours of the meeting you attend.

Some options of meetings to cover this week:

Monday, March 6, 5PM: Historic Preservation Commission

Wednesday, March 9, 2PM: Transit Commission

Wednesday, March 9, 4PM: Park Commission

Wednesday, March 9, 6PM: TedX Student Interest Meeting

Thursday, March 10, 11AM: Tree Board

Thursday, March 10, Noon: UM Toastmasters Meeting

Friday, March 11, 1PM: Historic Preservation Commission



—Please read: Berkeley’s SEO BASICS


  • Meeting coverage – examples of successful reports
  • Beat story #3 edits (demo of proper attribution, captioning, showing vs. telling, etc.)
  • Timelines



Meeting Story: Example

The below is an example of a Meeting Coverage story from a former student – he received an “A-” because of some minor technical errors, which I’ve marked in bold:

New Technology Key to Implementation of New Downtown Parking Regulation

          The Oxford Downtown Parking Advisory Commission discussed new technologies during their Friday morning meeting that will assist in enforcing the new parking regulations on the Square in downtown Oxford. GOOD

Key to enforcing Oxfords new regulations for square parking is LPR or license plate reader technology. Oxford Parking, which has recently begun enforcing a three hour time limit on most square parking, recently equipped a fleet of several vehicles with digital license plate readers.

The LPR system that Oxford has begun using to enforce regulations,* uses two cameras mounted on Park Oxford vehicles to allow parking attendants to keep track of vehicles parked on the square to ensure that no one has parked in a space longer than the maximum three hours. This also allows parking officers to remain in their vehicles while enforcing parking regulations.

Dreher Harris, who has been with the commission for three years said, that while the system may not have reduced labor costs within Park Oxford because of the high cost of the technology, it has reduced the sense of hostility people feel when they see parking attendants on foot.

“I don’t know if we save money, because you have to have equipment, training and new vehicles, but uniformed parking attendants create a kind of hostility that you don’t want your customers to feel,” Harris said.

According to Park Oxford, the system is averaging around an 80% effective rate of correctly recording individual license plates.

“We had the LPR company come out and do an audit on the LPR system and we do have a few small issues,” a representative from Park Oxford told the commission.

“One issue is with the U of M plates. The LPR reader is tending to read the logo as elements of the actual license number. Currently, we’re only correctly reading these particular plates around 45% of the time. These plates account for less than 15% of all of the license plates we’re seeing, so it isn’t an overly serious issue,” the representative said.

Park Oxford, is reluctant to adjust the LPRs any further in an attempt to better read the U of M plates because further adjustments may actually reduce the overall effectiveness of the system.

The new parking regulations on the Oxford square seem to be serving their purpose well. The Park Oxford representative said that their officers have issued 433 tickets last month. Park Oxford has issued on average 400 citations per month since the implementation of the new parking regulations. Park Oxford has also immobilized one vehicle this month for failure to pay citations.

“But that guy has about $2,000 worth of unpaid citations on his record,” The representative said.

The new parking regulations have been deemed a success according to Mike Martindale, a consultant hired by the City to research possible third party managed parking sometime in Oxford’s future.

“This isn’t a money making venture,” Martindale said. “We’re trying to change people’s behavior. We don’t want people abusing downtown parking and so far the regulations are working. Peoples parking behavior has changed, they no longer abuse parking; say parking their car on the square for several days. That’s exactly what we’re looking for from these new regulations.”