Friday, March 14, 2008

EXAMPLE-Long feature, not time-sensitive

Please tap on this link to find one of the best long, front page features the L.A. Times has done recently. The only reason I didn't hand it out is that it is extremely long, and it looks better with the photos and graphics anyway. Please take 20 minutes to read this. You will note the elements we discussed: suspense, conflict, resolution at the end, and you may have a different view of the reporters' fairness to both sides.,0,4657893.story

Here is the story's opening, to whet your appetite to click on the above link and read more.

Maternal care — or harm?

A Redlands mother of four was accused of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, fabricating or inducing illnesses in her own children.

By Tracy Weber
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 9, 2008

It was lunchtime at Loma Linda Academy when the social workers arrived, escorted by a deputy sheriff.

They were there to collect the Udvardi children. Amid dozens of students munching sandwiches and chips, school officials found 6-year-old Esther, then Abram, 11, and Sam, 14. They got the eldest, Matthew, 16, just as he arrived at his American Lit class.

The children were hustled one by one to a white van in the parking lot, then whisked away even before their father, the school's band teacher, knew what was happening.

Seven miles away in Redlands, the phone rang at the family's modest tract home. Leslie Udvardi found a county social worker on the line.The woman was blunt: Leslie had been deemed a danger to her children. They would be in the state's care until a court decided differently.

Leslie said the social worker accused her of subjecting the kids to unnecessary and often painful medical treatments.

In fact, child welfare officials believed Leslie was the one who was sick, with a syndrome known by a long and forbidding name: Munchausen by proxy.

Leslie had read about it. It was a TV crime drama disease, a mental illness in which a caregiver, usually a mother, fabricates illnesses in a child to gain attention.

Certainly her children had been stricken by an unusual number of ailments, almost from birth, but Leslie told the woman she'd done everything in her power to help, not hurt, them.

The social worker kept talking: Leslie could drop off clothes and books for the children.Leslie barely registered the details. All she could think was: They've taken my kids.

Leslie hung up and dialed her husband's cellphone. She was "screaming in a panic," Kirk Udvardi remembered. He was being accused too, she told him, of failing to protect the children from her.

For four days, Kirk said, no one would tell either parent where their children were.

Kirk said a social worker did offer him some unsolicited advice: "You're going to really need to come out strongly against your wife. If you don't come out against your wife, there's a good chance you're not going to see your kids again."

Click on the above link to read more!

EXAMPLE: Feature approach to a second-day, breaking hard news story

October 1, 2000

By Nomi Morris
Knight Ridder Newspapers

BUREIJ REFUGEE CAMP, Gaza Strip – Like viewers around the world, Amal al-Dirra saw her terrified son die on television as his father tried to shield him from Israeli gunfire.

“I went crazy. I was screaming and crying,” the 34-year-old mother of seven recounted Sunday, as dozens of mourners filled the bare, concrete house where her son Mohammed was born 12 years ago.

Now, as her husband lies critically wounded in a nearby hospital, Amal is sedated. Five little birds that Muhammed’s fifth grade teacher gave him, jump and chirp happily in their cage.

Outside Muhammed’s face is already on posters under the heading the Martyr of al-Aqsa. The morning paper published the photo sequence of him crouched behind a cement block and then shot. It is the enduring image of the latest eruption of Palestinian anger and frustration. It may be remembered as the last violent gasp that propels the sides toward a peace treaty or the beginning of a new protracted uprising.

Muhammed’s mother and his brother and cousins remember him as an active, outgoing kid who liked to play soccer and go for a ride with his dad or run errands for older relatives who worked in the neighborhood.

Contrary to Israeli army claims that Muhammed and his father Jamal were among the protesters that assaulted their outpost outside a Jewish settlement in Gaza, Amal says neither her husband nor son were political or even intending to observe the riots that began in Gaza on Friday.

“What kind of danger were they to the Israelis? They were carrying nothing. It’s clear on the TV. ?” Amal al-Dirra calmly explained.

She says Mohammed went with his father to shop for a used car in Gaza City Saturday morning because his parents didn’t want him to get swept up with other kids who might be inclined to watch or join in the riots.

Family members say that when father and son were heading home –without a new car -- their taxi was stopped by the roadblock at Netzarim Junction. Just when the two headed hand-in-hand across the rock-strewn intersection to get a taxi on the other side, the shooting started. For 40 minutes they were trapped by the gunfire, said one relative.

For about five minutes after the boy was hit his father yelled “My son is dying, my son is dying,” but nobody could get to them because the shooting continued, according to eye witness Muhammed Abu Najib, who was volunteering to collect blood with the local ambulance service.

When ambulance worker Assam al-Bilbaissie dashed to help the boy, he got shot and killed. And the grieving father Jamal, who most days works in construction in Israel, took four bullets.

Down the road, the 60 Orthodox Jewish families that the army is protecting at Netzarim settlement were oblivious to the drama outside. They were in the settlement’s synagogue welcoming in the Jewish new year.

“It is very important for us to keep this place in the hand of the state of Israel,” Shlomit Ziv, a 30-year-old mother of six at Netzarim, told foreign journalists 10 days earlier. “Abraham lived here. God told him here ‘I will give you Israel – Gaza and Jerusalem.”

The Israeli army has opened an investigation into Muhammed’s death, which spokesmen describe as a “horrible tragedy.” But they insist their soldiers were merely defending themselves as Palestinians attacked them, including with bullets.

“We had a mob rioting and throwing Molotov cocktails and bombs. It was a war zone. You think they could see the boy? There were thousands of people.” said army spokesman Yarden Vatikay. “Of course this was sorrowful event. But if the Palestinians had stopped the mobs this child would still be playing soccer in Bureij.”

Muhammed’s mom says she takes comfort that her child is in paradise because he died a martyr’s death. But she does not believe her son’s death will change anything between Arabs and Israelis.

“We’re used to this. Once in a while people die. But everything goes on as usual,” Amal al-Dirra said.
When she visited her husband in the hospital Sunday morning his first words to her were “Be patient. Be patient".

A few hours earlier, Amal dreamed she saw her little boy Muhammed walk in the door.

“I’ll raise the birds for him,” she said, looking up at the cage.


Week 10 Summary and Spring Break Advisory

-Most of the class was spent analyzing the elements of a news feature article from the L.A. Times about a family conflict over guns, after the daughter was shot by a boyfriend who had stolen her own father’s gun to do it. (Question sheet will be uploaded onto the website).
-We then did Number 6 on page 206 of the text, a 15-minute free (stream-of-consciousness) writing exercise on a turning point moment in your life. (Results were terrific!) Feel free to do free writing on the other four subjects listed in that exercise. The author Julia Cameron believes in free writing every morning of your life to get your ‘stuff’ out of your system and get you warmed up for your work as a writer.

Number 1 on page 206 was assigned, to be handed in the first day back after spring break. Be sure to incorporate some dialogue into your colorful, descriptive writing.
It is acceptable to do the assignment at a Starbucks or other café. Even though this is a feature writing exercise, remember it is journalism not fiction: accuracy of quotes and details is still important.

- This was the last day to get credit for handing in the speaker/meeting story and your story pitch assignment.
- A big round of applause went out to Dylan for getting the front page of the Student Voice, for his story on the Rocketdyne meeting.
- We again discussed what the differences are between hard news, soft news, news feature, analysis, and opinion journalism. (We acknowledged that you may sometimes take a feature approach to hard news, as in the Middle East story by Nomi Morris which is to be emailed and mounted on the website. But the safest best on a first-day, hard news story is to go with a hard news lead.)
- We compared up on the screen three different versions of an AP story on the Kansas woman who was stuck to the toilet seat.
- We spent the last segment of class taking a news story about dying pigeons and rewriting the lead twice: once as a hard new lead, once as a feature story lead. (this exercise will also be mounted on the website).

- New chapters to be read are Chapters 13 and 14 on Accuracy, Law, and Media Ethics
- Compulsory re-reading of pages 38 – 42 (quotes and attribution) as well as pages 174 – 181 (inverted pyramid and other story structures). Also – the additional handouts on Inverted Pyramid that I supplied in January. You will find that reading this material again now will have a whole new meaning after the amount of news writing you’ve done.

- Please come to class after the break prepared to state what story you would like to do that will count as your submission to the Student Voice.
- Please get into the habit of reading 5 – 10 pages each evening so that you will be caught up in all the reading after the break
- Please read through the AP stylebook from M- Z if you haven't already done so.

The following are the chapters that have been assigned so far this semester (all of which will be covered in the final exam):

- Chapter 1 – Changing face of news coverage
- Chapter 2 – The basic news story
- Chapter 5 - Interviewing
- Chapter 6 – Grammar and Usage
- Chapter 7 – Leads and Nut Graphs
- Chapter 8 – Story Structure
- Chapter 9 – Feature Writing Technique
- Chapters 13 and 14 – Accuracy, Law and Ethics (newly assigned)
- Chapter 18 – Speeches, Meetings, Press Conferences
- Chapter 20 – Crime

Consume journalism over the break; read critically newspapers, magazines and web news. Listen critically to radio and television reporting.

Go back over the blogsite and re-read items of interest (such as the two places I have mounted writing tips).

For those who haven’t already done so, please compile all your writing assignments in a portfolio and keep your quizzes as well. I will have a master list of what everybody is missing and if anything is in dispute we can take it from there.

(I will check my vcccd email at least every other day).


Friday, March 7, 2008


– We discussed coverage of meetings, press conferences, speakers and similar events. These are not hard news in the same way a fire, an election, an act of crime, an accident, a natural disaster, a war, or a major political event or announcement would be.
They are, however, written as news stories – rather than features -- because the event, meeting or speech which you are covering, took place at a specific point in time that brings the issue onto the public agenda. Inverted pyramid is still the way to go.

- In week 8 we did an in-class practice assignment by watching U-Tube clips of the case of Corey Delaney, an Australian party boy. This was followed by a mock press conference of the Ventura County Police alerting parents in our area to their degree of legal liability, should their minor children hold parties where alcohol is served.

- In week 9 we did an in-class practice assignment by covering a 1998 Commencement speech at M.I.T. by the unconventional author Kurt Vonnegut Jr. We learned that the speech was never written, nor delivered by Vonnegut, but was written by a columnist at the Chicago Tribune. Then it took on a new life over the Internet.

- We discussed the importance of the pitch, which is a proposal to interest an editor in a story you wish to write.

- We moved from meetings, speeches and press conferences to feature stories.

QUIZ – There was an open book quiz on Tues. March 4, 2008. If you missed the quiz, you may make it up at home and sent it by email. This offer expires on Tues. March 11.

READING – Chapter 18 was previously assigned and Chapter 9 (story telling and narrative writing) was assigned on Thursday, to be read by this Tuesday. Please also see the writing tips I have posted on

- Your speaker or meeting coverage assignment, of which you received notification on Feb. 19th and which was formally assigned on Feb. 26th, was due last Tuesday March 5th. The final day for acceptance of this assignment is this Tuesday, March 11.

- The story pitch assignment is due on Tuesday, March 11. It is short. It should be easy to write, since you may do it on the meeting or speaker story you have just completed. If you did not receive a copy of the pitch assignment, contact me and I will email it to you.

BONUS POINTS – It was announced that anyone who submits additional stories by covering additional events at school or in the community, will receive addition points out of 10. I highly encourage everybody to make use of this offer if you have missed quizzes and assignments to date.

GRADING – All students are doing well or very well on the work completed. Some students have missed assignments or quizzes, which is dragging your overall grade down slightly. Please contact me for a review of your grade and a plan of how to best raise it.
Showing up at each class is absolutely the best way to keep your grade up.

– When writing your assignments at home, keep the AP stylebook beside you and don’t hesitate to look things up.

- Before you begin writing, take some time to go over all your notes, circle good quotes and points you want to cover, then make a brief, point-form outline of your story. The writing will go more smoothly if you know where you are going with it.

- If you find yourself searching for the right word, don’t hesitate to use the thesaurus on your word processing program. The best writers often struggle for the right words.









BROADCAST – RADIO, TELEVISION (also mounted on web)


- Don’t add description for the sake of decoration. It has to set the mood or tone or in some way work with the theme of the story or it is just a distraction.
- Use vivid nouns and verbs, rather than cluttering the writing with many adjectives.
- Avoid listing items.
- Ask yourself whether your passage is taking readers further into your story or further away.
- If writing a descriptive or anecdotal lead, be careful of length and include a nut graph that ties the opening to your theme.
- Excessive wordiness can ruin the effect you are trying to achieve. Keep it clear and concise, even when colorful.
- Use concrete images and examples rather than vague ideas.