Friday, April 25, 2008

Visions 2008

Are you submitting something to Visions this year? If so, join your competition for a Drop-Off Party at Chef Geoff's tonight, April 25 from 5:30-7:30. It's free!

Monday, April 21, 2008

The state of sports journalism

CostasNOW, HBO's show of feature sports stories by Bob Costas, is doing a live show on Tuesday, April 29. They're planning on "Taking stock of the sports media landscape, including the rise of internet bloggers and sports talk radio." Seems like an interesting way to combine changing media and sports journalism.

Great opportunity to see a network producing legend

I am pleased to announce that our final guest in the Executive
Suite 2008 will be the legendary
Producer/Director Max Schindler of NBC News

Max directed; "
Meet the Press" for 20 years receiving 2 Peabody Awards and and Emmy

The Today Show" (Washington segments) for 22 years

produced or directed;
Coverage at all political conventions from 1964 until Bush 43

Coverage of the
JFK, MLK and RFK funerals

Various Inaugurals

The coverage of
Pope John Paul II's White House visit and ceremony

The 2004
Ronald Reagan funeral, for which he received an Emmy award, just to name a few!

Max will be joining us on Wednesday July 23 in Wechsler starting at 3:30 pm. Please invite your students to hear one of the living legends of live television, in person here at American University

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

... with Professor Walker

A top photojournalist took our picture during our visit to the White House press briefing room. We heard a briefing by Dana Perino.

Visit to the White House Briefing Room

Monday, April 14, 2008

A chance to sit in on Talk of the Nation

On behalf of National Public Radio, I would like to invite you and your school community to join Talk of the Nation for a live broadcast on April 16, 2008 at the Newseum.

This is a great chance to see the Newseum at its new Washington DC location and to be part of our live, studio audience.

Show topics for April 16 will be:

Hour One 2 -3 pm
Political Junkie: John W. Dean and Barry M. Goldwater, Jr.

NPR’s Political Editor Ken Rudin will get us up to speed on the latest campaign news and John W. Dean and Barry M. Goldwater, Jr., will talk about their new book, Pure Goldwater.

Hour Two 3-4 pm
The Glory Days of TV News

Roger Mudd, who was the weekend anchor of the CBS Evening News, joins his former colleague, Bob Schieffer, to talk about Mudd’s new book, The Place to Be: Washington, CBS, and the Glory Days of Television News.

To reserve your complimentary tickets, please email me at or call 202. 513. 3959. Audience members are able to tour the Newseum after the show finishes. When reserving tickets, please indicate which show you would like to attend, 2-3, 3-4 or both. A post-show Q&A can be arranged for school groups.

Feel free to contact me with any questions.

Amanda Stupi

Amanda Stupi
Talk of the Nation
National Public Radio
202. 513. 3959.

Breaking Down the Five Boxes

Five Boxes Story: Deconstructing a News Feature Story

By Chip Scanlan, The Poynter Institute

Although Rick Bragg doesn’t outline his stories, I wanted to see whether echoes of the “five boxes” approach he suggests to writers struggling with organization might resound in his own work. In my textbook, Reporting and Writing: Basics for the 21st Century, I compared the structure with, “Another Battle of New Orleans: Mardi Gras,” a story in his 1996 Pulitzer Prize and Best Newspaper Writing Award-winning package. Although my choices are certainly open to challenge, I perceived a strong connection.

The first box contains the lead, the image, the detail that draws the reader into the story. It can be a single paragraph or several. Bragg focuses on Larry Bannock and the contrast between his shabby surroundings and the glory of his role as a black Indian of Mardi Gras. The section concludes with a brief-but-vivid quote. Note how Bragg separates the quotation with a description of Bannock: a technique that provides pacing and a vivid counterpoint.

By Rick Bragg

NEW ORLEANS, Feb. 18--The little shotgun house is peeling, and the Oldsmobile in front is missing a rear bumper, but Larry Bannock can glimpse glory through the eye of his needle.

For almost a year he has hunkered over his sewing table, joining beads, velvet, rhinestones, sequins, feathers and ostrich plumes into a Mardi Gras costume that is part African, part Native American.

“I’m pretty,” said Mr. Bannock, who is 6 feet tall and weighs 300 pounds. “And, baby, when I walk out that door there ain’t nothing cheap on me.”

Most days, this 46-year-old black man is a carpenter, welder and handyman, but on Mardi Gras morning he is a Big Chief, one of the celebrated--if incongruous--black Indians of Carnival. He is an important man.

Sometime around 11 a.m. on Feb. 28, Mr. Bannock will step from his house in a resplendent, flamboyant turquoise costume complete with a towering headdress, and people in the largely black and poor 16th and 17th Wards, the area known as Gert Town, will shout, cheer and follow him through the streets, dancing, drumming and singing.

“That’s my glory,” he said. Like the other Big Chiefs, he calls it his “mornin’ glory.”>

Box 2: Nut Graf

A paragraph (or paragraphs) that sums up the story and provides the reader with context and background is the second box. Bragg steps back now from the close-up scene of Bannock working in his house to place him in the larger context. The phrase “He is one of the ...” is a signal that the nut section is beginning. Here the writer provides an analysis, which he attributes to the Big Chiefs and academics. The section ends on a dramatic quote, a useful method of narrative as punctuation.

He is one of the standard-bearers of a uniquely New Orleans tradition. The Big Chiefs dance, sing and stage mock battles--wars of words and rhymes--to honor American Indians who once gave sanctuary to escaped slaves. It is an intense but elegant posturing, a street theater that some black men devote a lifetime to.

But this ceremony is also self-affirmation, the way poor blacks in New Orleans honor their own culture in a Carnival season that might otherwise pass them by, said the Big Chiefs who carry on the tradition, and the academics who study it.

These Indians march mostly in neighborhoods where the tourists do not go, ride on the hoods of dented Chevrolets instead of floats, and face off on street corners where poverty and violence grip the people most of the rest of the year. The escape is temporary, but it is escape.

“They say Rex is ruler,” said Mr. Bannock, referring to the honorary title given to the king of Carnival, often a celebrity, who will glide through crowds of tourists and local revelers astride an elaborate float. “But not in the 17th Ward. ‘Cause I’m the king here. This is our thing.

“The drums will be beating and everybody will be hollering and”--he paused to stab the needle through a mosaic of beads and canvas--”and it sounds like all my people’s walking straight through hell.”

Box 3: Retelling

This box is almost a second lead, based on a new scene, detail or strong image, which allows the writer to begin retelling the story that began in the lead and draws the reader into the bulk of the story. Length can vary. In this section Bragg’s reference to an Oldsmobile is an echo of the lead. It is a clever technique that acts as a transition from the nut section to a new one that continues with the story of Bannock and the Big Chiefs.

A man does not need an Oldsmobile, with or without a bumper, if he can walk on air. Lifted there by the spirit of his neighborhood, it is his duty to face down the other Big Chiefs, to cut them down with words instead of bullets and straight razors, the way the Indians used to settle their disagreements in Mardi Gras in the early 1900s. Mr. Bannock, shot in the thigh by a jealous old chief in 1981, appears to be the last to have been wounded in battle.

“I forgave him,” Mr. Bannock said.

The tribes have names like the Yellow Pocahontas, White Eagles, the Golden Star Hunters and the Wild Magnolias. The Big Chiefs are not born, but work their way up through the ranks. Only the best sewers and singers become Big Chiefs.

By tradition, the chiefs must sew their own costumes and must do a new costume from scratch each year. Mr. Bannock’s fingers are scarred from a lifetime of it.

His right index finger is a mass of old punctures. Some men cripple themselves, through puncture wounds or repetitive motion, and have to retire. The costumes can cost $5,000 or more, a lot of cash in Gert Town.

The rhythms of their celebration, despite their feathered headdresses, seem more West African or Haitian than Indian, and the words are from the bad streets of the Deep South. Mr. Bannock said that no matter what the ceremony’s origins, it belongs to New Orleans now. The battle chants have made their way into popular New Orleans music. The costumes hang in museums.

“Maybe it don’t make no sense, and it ain’t worth anything,” said Mr. Bannock. But one day a year he leads his neighborhood on a hard, forced march to respect, doing battle at every turn with other chiefs who are out trying to do the same.

Jimmy Ricks is a 34-year-old concrete finisher most of the year, but on Mardi Gras morning he is a Spy Boy, the man who goes out ahead of the Big Chief searching for other chiefs. He is in love with the tradition, he said, because of what it means to people here.

“It still amazes me,” he said, how on Mardi Gras mornings the people from the neighborhood drift over to Mr. Bannock’s little house on Edinburgh Street and wait for a handyman to lead them.

“To understand it, you got to let your heart wander,” said Mr. Bannock, who leads the Golden Star Hunters. “All I got to do is peek through my needle.”

I’m 52 inches across my chest

And I don’t bow to nothin’

‘Cept God and death

--from a battle chant by Larry Bannock

Box 4: BBI

Shorthand for “boring but important,” this box contains less compelling material, such as quotes from experts or data bolstering the main theme. It rounds out the story and provides balance. Here Bragg includes material from an academic expert, hoping that by this time the reader is sufficiently engaged and interested to care about the event’s history. Writers often make the mistake of including this kind of information earlier in the story before the reader is ready for it.

The more exclusive party within the party--the grand balls and societies that underlie the reeling, alcohol-soaked celebration that is Carnival--have always been By Invitation Only.

The origins of Carnival, which climaxes with Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, are found in the Christian season of celebration before Lent. In New Orleans the celebration reaches back more than 150 years, to loosely organized parades in the 1830s. One of the oldest Carnival organizations, the Mystick Krewe of Comus, staged the first organized parade. Today, Mardi Gras is not one parade but several, including that of the traditional Zulus, a black organization. But Comus, on Fat Tuesday, is still king.

The krewes were--some still are--secret societies. The wealthier whites and Creoles, many of whom are descendants of people of color who were free generations before the Civil War, had balls and parades, while poorer black men and women cooked the food and parked the cars.

Mardi Gras had no other place for them, said Dr. Frederick Stielow, director of Tulane University’s Amistad Research Center, the largest minority archive in the nation. And many of these poorer blacks still are not part of the party, he said.

“These are people who were systematically denigrated,” said Dr. Stielow, who has studied the Mardi Gras Indians for years. So they made their own party, “a separate reality,” he said, to the hard work, racism and stark poverty.

It might have been a Buffalo Bill Wild West Show that gave them the idea to dress as Indians, Dr. Stielow said, but either way the first “Indian tribes” appeared in the late 1800s. They said they wore feathers as a show of affinity from one oppressed group to another, and to thank the Louisiana Indians for sanctuary in the slave days.

By the Great Depression these tribes, or “gangs” as they are now called, used Mardi Gras as an excuse to seek revenge on enemies and fought bloody battles, said the man who might be the biggest chief of all, 72-year-old Tootie Montana. He has been one for 46 years.

Mr. Bannock said, “They used to have a saying, ‘Kiss your wife, hug your momma, sharpen your knife, and load your pistol.’”

Even after the violence faded into posturing, the New Orleans Police Department continued to break up the Indian gatherings. Mr. Bannock said New Orleans formally recognized the Indians’ right to a tiny piece of Mardi Gras just two years ago.

Shoo fly, don’t bother me

Shoo fly, don’t bother me

If it wasn’t for the warden and them lowdown hounds

I’d be in New Orleans ‘fore the sun go down

--Big Chief’s battle chant, written by a chief while in the state prison in Angola

They speak a language as mysterious as any white man’s krewe.

In addition to Spy Boys, there are Flag Boys--the flag bearers--and Second Line, the people, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, who follow the chiefs from confrontation to confrontation.

They march--more of a dance, really-- from Downtown, Uptown, even across the river in the poor black sections of Algiers--until the Big Chiefs meet at the corner of Claiborne and Orleans Avenues and, inside a madhouse circle of onlookers, lash each other with words. Sometimes people almost faint from the strain.

But it is mainly with the costume itself that a man does battle, said Mr. Montana. The breastplates are covered with intricate pictures of Indian scenes, painstakingly beaded by hand. The feathers are brilliant yellows, blues, reds and greens.

The winner is often “the prettiest,” Mr. Montana said, and that is usually him.

“I am the oldest, I am the best, and I am the prettiest,” he said.

A few are well-off businessmen, at least one has served time in prison, but most are people who sweat for a living, like him.

Some chiefs do not make their own costumes, but pay to have them made--what Mr. Bannock calls “drugstore Indians.” Of the 20 or so people who call themselves Big Chiefs, only a few remain true to tradition.

Box 5: Kicker

The story ends in this box. It may be a quote, an image, a comment; whatever you choose, the best endings resonate. Now Bragg comes full circle, returning to the scene in the lead. Many writers might end with the “mornin’ glory” quote, but Bragg chooses to end the story with a detail that strikes the chord of his theme: one man’s devotion to a tradition larger than himself.

Mr. Bannock sits and sweats in his house, working day and night with his needle. He has never had time for a family. He lives for Fat Tuesday.

“I need my mornin’ glory,” he said.

A few years ago he had a heart attack but did not have time to die. He had 40 yards of velvet to cut and sew.

The New York Times
February 19, 1995

Saturday, April 12, 2008

No Face the Nation Visit

Hello class,

I have some bad news, which is that I am canceling the Face the Nation visit for Sunday. I talked with the host, Bob Schieffer, and he said he planned to do his commentary early in the morning so even he would not be in the studio for us. All the guests were pre-taped, which means the whole show is what's called "in the can" - or not live. This was the luck of the draw, so I apologize that it didn't work out. If any of you would like a tour of the CBS studios before you leave for home at the end of the semester, we can talk about doing that.

job possibilities

The Online NewsHour with Jim Lehrer is looking to fill several
entry-level positions in the Washington, D.C., area. May/June
graduates are encouraged to apply, but these positions are filled on a
rotating basis throughout the year. For complete information, go to
our jobs page:

Here are the job descriptions:

Desk Assistants - Online

6-month position

A desk assistant is needed to help with the daily production of the
NewsHour's Web site, The Online NewsHour. This entry-level position is
located in Arlington, Va. We are looking for a sharp individual with
editorial skills who is looking to gain experience in online news
production and online news writing.

Duties include:
- Organizing and distributing show transcripts and viewer mail
- Encoding transcripts into HTML
- Updating Web site indexes
- Digitizing audio
- Assisting the editorial and production staff with special projects

Computer skills required. Web production skills desired; however,
training will be provided.


Please fax or e-mail the your application to:
The Online NewsHour
Fax: 703.820.6266

Education Desk Assistant - Online NewsHour Extra for Students

6-month position

A desk assistant is needed to help produce the NewsHour's Web site for
students and teachers, NewsHour Extra.

This paid internship-type position is located in Arlington, Va. We are
looking for a sharp individual with editorial skills, who is looking
to gain experience in online journalism and is interested in working
with young people.

Duties include:
- Writing news for a 10th-grade audience
- Using Dreamweaver to produce stories for high school students and
lesson plans for teachers
- Updating story archives
- Processing photos and writing captions in Photoshop
- Help with writing and producing the "Daily Buzz"
- Assisting the editorial and production staff with special projects,
such as Newz Crew, an Online Dialogue about current events
- Web production skills desired; however, training will be provided.


Please fax or e-mail your resume to:
The Online NewsHour
Fax: 703.824.6592


I'd be happy to answer any questions about the positions.

Dave Gustafson
Associate Editor, News
Online NewsHour with Jim Lehrer __._,_.___

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sommer Mathis

Sommer Mathis is editor in chief of Her e-mai address is

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Homework for Thursday, April 17

By next Thursday, I would like all of your final project blogs to have quotes from at least two sources and a rough draft lead for your story. This will help you focus your stories and allow me to give you feedback as you go. This extends the deadline a bit. We're closing in on the end of the semester!
Developments re Face the Nation for Sunday: The high-profile guests will indeed do pre-tapes BUT we may still be able to see Bob Schieffer do a short commentary and we will have more time to tour the bureau. I will e-mail everyone with more details as soon as I get them. This is common, since the show often changes at the last minute, so we'll do the best we can.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Important info on meetings with me, deadlines, etc.!

Important info for this week:
You must schedule a time to meet with me in my office this week. If you were not able to sign up for a time slot in class, please let me know your availability. There is a penalty if you do not set up a time or if you do not show up for our meeting (without letting me know about extenuating circumstances).
Monday in class we went over our papers and writing for broadcast; please review chapters 19 and 20.
Homework due Thursday: A rewrite of your second major reporting story based on my detailed comments on your papers. You do not need to re-do interviews or cover another event but if you need information that you cannot get, you need to provide an annotated rewrite explaining what you would have done had you reached the right person or asked the right question. The rewrite will be graded. Your first draft grade will count but you will be able to drop your lowest grade.
Homework due Monday: Contact two sources for your final project and put the transcripts of the interviews on your blog. (You can record the interviews for podcasts if you have the proper equipment.)
A clarification about the final project:
The final project is technically the LAST PAGE of your blog -- which will include the news feature story that you write and the original visual material. The blog so far is a repository for your research and to meet the incremental assignments as we go.
On Thursday we will have a guest speaker -- Sommer Mathis, editor in chief of Please take a look at the site. She will talk to us about the world of online journalism and how it fits into the big picture.
ALSO, we will be sitting in on a taping of Face the Nation on Sunday. Please meet me at 2020 M St. NW at 9:30 am.
-Professor Walker

First Lady of Tanzania

Please join AU's
School of Communication, School of International Service, and the College of Arts & Sciences as we welcome

Her Excellency

Mama Salma Kikwete
First Lady of Tanzania
on Tuesday, April 8, 2008

6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Mary Graydon Center Room 3

The First Lady will discuss the next generation of leadership and the importance of investing in education and health for economic empowerment in Africa. She will also discuss how vital the innovations in multimedia are to telling the important stories of development to motivate policy change and positively impact the lives of young African girls.

A five-minute clip of a documentary created by one of AU SOC’s MA students, Anthony Brenneman, for Network for the Improvement of World Health--an organizer of the First Lady's US tour--will also be screened at the event.

Contact Elizabeth Draughon at for more information.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

“They are raising the ante on what it takes to become a journalist.”

A distinguished journalism professor retires and gives his thoughts on the field:

Here is the link.

Friday, April 4, 2008 summer internships still available!

There are lots of interesting slots ... city guides, politics,, express ... and more.

Try this link.

If this link doesn't work, go to jobs and click on link at the bottom of the page "work for us."

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Career Shoppers - an internship for you!'s Shopping
is looking for summer interns!

Interns must be current undergrad or grad students.

Find out more here:
(I mean here.)

To write on Carissa DiMargo's Wall, follow the link.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

This just in!

William Safire just confirmed on The Daily Show that he came up with the phrase "nattering nabobs of negativism" as a speech writer for Agnew.

American Forum, Monday, April 14 - extra credit if you attend!

American University School of Communication

An American Forum

The Media and Islam

Monday, April 14, 8:00-9:00 p.m.

Ward 1
Ward Circle Building
American University

Ambassador Akbar Ahmed
Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies
American University

Peter Bergen
Journalist and Terrorism Analyst

Liz Cheney
Former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs

Abderrahim Foukara
Bureau Chief/Managing Editor for Al Jazzera

Jane Hall
Associate Professor
American University School of Communication


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Emily Freifeld visits class Thursday

Emily Freifeld was in your position just a few months ago and is now a videographer and podcaster at She and her fiance, James Kotecki, a video blogger at, are both great examples of students who have been highly successful in digital journalism. Emily's latest podcast: You can see both of them in the posted Youtube video, which documents their participation in the Walk for Autism on the National Mall last fall.