Focus Words

When you construct a sentence, where you place certain words and phrases can add impact and help focus the story. It can also help naturally transition you into the next sentence.

Think about our in-class exercise on a feature, narrative lead. Here is the story.

The [steps] leading to Ted Drake’s Wesley Neighborhood apartment can be [treacherous]. Duct tape keeps the bannister in place and the wood step risers are warped or loose.

The [conditions inside] get even [worse].

His kitchen is infested with mice and roaches. The bathroom lacks electricity and Drake has to wash his face by candlelight over a stained sink.

“It’s a dump,” said Drake, a senior at Towson University majoring in architecture. “But it was the cheapest thing I could find.”

Drake’s story is becoming all too common. Each year, dozens of unsafe apartments in Wesley and nearby neighborhoods are being rented to area college students.

The words “steps” and “treacherous” are placed at the beginning and end of the sentence to add impact and reverberate in the head of the reader. Just by placing them there the reader WANTS to know just how treacherous these steps are and what specifically about them makes it so. The next sentence provides that and you don’t need an intervening sentence or phrase to transition you there. The transition is natural and invisible, the way good writing should be.

Likewise, the focus words “conditions’ “inside” and “worse” lead the reader to the next paragraph and set of details. In essence, they foreshadow what is to come. The reader is expecting you to take them inside and show how bad the conditions are in there. Again, no awkward transition needed, the copy just flows.

When you’re building a story, try to find the right focus words and placement for them to move the story forward and lead into details.


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.



Advance Story

Here is the advance story sample we went over in class. This upcoming assignment will Story # 2 and it’s due the week we come back from Spring Break. More details were included in a previous post.

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 will be kicking 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, Cosmopolitan.com, 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.




Next Week

Reminder that due next week is a short written pitch on the subject of your Advance Story. You can simply email me your idea(s). I’m just looking for a couple of sentences of what you want to write about, and why. What is the angle and focus? Why is it newsworthy and worth more than a calendar listing? Think about all the news qualities, and what would appeal to readers. An annual event might not be news, but maybe the’ve made significant changes to size, scope and venue. You’ll need to contact the organizer/director of the event, so pick a subject you’ll have access to. More about this assignment in the post below.

Also next week is the Midterm! Bring a pen and your AP Stylebook.


MCCS Spring Networking Fair

Worthwhile event, especially for those ready to enter the workforce.

Towson University Public Relations Student Society of America will host its to the annual MCCS Networking Fair on Friday, April 6, 2018 from noon to 3 p.m. in the Chesapeake Rooms.

This event brings together employers from the communication, public relations, advertising, journalism, and marketing professions to connect with Towson University students seeking contacts and internships (spring, summer, fall), part-time, and full-time opportunities in the field. Some of our confirmed companies include: Target, Network Media Partners, Media Works Ltd., Marriott International, and Girl’s Life magazine with more to come. Music, food, and prizes. They also have a professional LinkedIn Photo Booth at the event for students to get their headshots taken for free. If you go, bring copies of your resume, and dress business casual.

If you have any questions or have industry contacts that may like to be invited, please email towsonprssa@gmail.com.

MCCS Networking Fair-11


Advance Stories

The paper due on March 28 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 Master 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 four to six 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. Due on March 14 will be your story idea.

Here (below) is an 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. We talked about the story being anywhere from 150 to 500 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, and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday in the Student Union. No registration is necessary.

For a full list of participating employers, go to www.towson.edu/careerservices/events.

[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.


[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.


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.)…..

In class, we did some summary lead and short story 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. 


Due next week

Homework: Do numbers 2-4 (right side of page) of the handout. Using the information provided, write a one-sentence summary lead/statement for each. Just like we did in class. Some details/specifics you will leave out or delay. Remember we talked about delaying ID on some names, places, and organizations, etc. when not relevant. (Again, this means delaying ID ONLY for the lead. Someone might be identified as a 21-year-old Towson University student in a news lead, but then mentioned by name later on in the story, maybe even the next sentence.) You folks did a great job in class, but reach out if you had any questions about the assignment. When you’re done, pose to Blackboard. Remember to follow the submission guidelines (your name, double-spaced, etc.) and to follow AP Style.




Due Next Week

Reminder that due next week is your analysis of a news story. Choose a news story from a major daily newspaper (city, state or national), or a reputable online news site (CNN, NPR, BBC News).  Tell me what news characteristics the story has. We went over this in class. I also want a detailed observation of the writing style. Pay attention to sentence structure, word choice, story structure, use of details, etc. I’m not really looking for a critique of the writing, although you could tell me how effective the writer was in keeping your attention and summarizing the subject. Upload to Blackboard. I will create an assignment link.