Photo 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.



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.


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.”


Next Week

Due next week are revisions of the Coke news story. This will be our last official class. I’ll go over what will be on the final.

Otherwise, work hard on the feature stories. Remember, these you can’t revise! Polish them as best you can. No spelling, grammar or AP style errors. Tightly worded sentences. Focused, with only relevant details. Look for good verbs!


From Sri Lanka to Baltimore, a young life examined. [Feature Sample]

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.”

         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.


Feature Pitches

Due May 2 will be your pitches for story #4, the enterprise feature. You can submit to my Towson email address like you did last time. In short, this final story is a short feature on a newsworthy subject. For your pitch, I want to know four things. What is the focus of the story? Who would your primary sources be? Why is it newsworthy? And why now? Meaning, what is the news peg. You might do a profile on someone coming to speak at Towson University. The news peg then would be their appearance at TU, or perhaps they have a new book/show they are promoting. Keep your pitch realistic. Pick a subject you have access to, and can report on within the time frame. Keep the pitch specific. Don’t say: ‘I want to write a feature on domestic or sexual violence.’

Rather, you might say:

I plan to write a story on [name] who was a victim of sexual assault, and has started a Towson organization on violence prevention. She’s promoting a new program that will launch this spring, and I’ll arrange an interview with her on campus. I plan to talk with her about the new program and why she’s gone public. I’ll also contact the Towson University Counseling Center to see what resources there are at TU for victims, and use national statistics from RAINN and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Pick a topic you’re interested in and excited to write about. Something you may not know much about, but want to find out more.

Here is the information from the syllabus.

Story 4- ENTERPRISE STORY: News Feature/Profile: This should be based on at least three interviews (in-person) and focus on the material developed from your questioning of the subjects. Ideally, you interview your subject in a relevant location to the story’s focus. For example, for a feature on varsity team’s coach, you’d want to interview him or her in their office, on the practice field, and maybe observe them on game day. You do this to get good details and quotes that will illustrate your subject. Stories can focus on societal trends (e.g., body piercing, health habits, Social Media), community issues (public safety, construction) and events (a milestone anniversary for a program) or any subject deemed newsworthy. Follow-up or localized stories to hard news stories are also fine. You may decide to do a profile. For example, you could write a story on an artist, a Towson athlete, a faculty member or anybody with a unique and interesting story to tell. Keep in mind that you could (and should, in some cases) interview the subject’s friends, co-workers, peers, critics, family, etc. You may not interview your own friends or relatives unless you receive my prior approval. The story should be between 600-1000 words.


Alternative Leads

Here are some versions of the African wildlife relocation lead…

Lions stalking deer in the stubble of a Nebraska corn field. Elephants trumpeting across Colorado’s high plains. Cheetah slouching through the West Texas scrub. Prominent ecologists are floating an audacious plan that sounds like a “Jumanji” sequel — transplant African wildlife to the Great Plains of North America.  –Source AP

Only an eyeblink of evolutionary time separates the contemporary Great Plains from one resembling the savannas of Africa. It’s not a perfect resemblance, but close enough that ecologists have considered “rewilding” the Great Plains with African mammals.  –Source Wired

Bison beware, a certain roaring predator could soon roam the same prairie

A group of biologists and ecologists have devised a plan to relocate African animals, such as lions and giraffes, to the Great Plains of North America to save these endangered species from extinction.

Prairie dogs, meet Simba.


Story #3, TedX talks

For story #3, write a news story focused on one of the below TedX talks. Imagine you’re a reporter covering the event, very similar to the Apple Event we looked at in class 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, but the interesting thing they focus on.

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.

“Cover” one of these TedX talks, or find a speech a talk in Towson or Baltimore to cover.

Here is Kate Wagner talking about McMansions.

And here is neuroscientist David Linden talking about the power of touch.






Last Class, Next Week

Hi All:

Recap of last class.

I handed back midterms. We can go over in class next week, or set up a time to meet with me if you had a question.

We also did a practice (diagnostic) of the upcoming Grammar Test. The exam and the answer keys are on the course Blackboard page. Take the exam again for extra practice. I’ll also put up another practice exam with answer key. The (real) test will be on April 11.


We watched the recent Apple Special Keynote Event. I didn’t do this 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. In class, we talked about 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.


In class, we had our own press event, the announcement of the pink Coke cans. Due next week is a news story about this announcement. Like we talked about in class, you can use what I gave you in class AND supplement with real and relevant information from primary sources. I added a submission folder on Blackboard called “Coca-Cola News.”

Next class we will continue with event coverage, and then segue into online news and feature writing. Have a good weekend.