The Weekly Wednesday: Do as I say … AND as I do

Originally published on on Aug. 26, 2015.

An odd number of students in my editing class forced me into action for the first in-class writing exercise: write a short profile of a classmate following my “Anatomy of a Journalism Story” format.

The “Anatomy” format is formulaic:

  • Open story with a one-sentence lead, focusing on the who and what.
  • The second paragraph is a quote from your main source, reinforcing the lead.
  • The third paragraph is the nut graf, filling in the essential details not covered in the lead.
  • The rest of the story comprises transition/new information, quote. Transition/new information, quote.
  • The story always ends with a quote, ideally tying the back to the lead.

The idea is to introduce students to a journalistic format that is simple to follow and flows well for the reader. It is the only time I confine students to a specific format. Admittedly, this was the first time I subjected myself to simultaneously work on the same exercise I gave my students. The pressure was on: if I couldn’t pull this off, how could I expect my students to do the same? After interviewing my subject for 10 minutes, I started writing. It was a flashback to being a student in school, complicated by the inevitable self-evaluating of my teaching methods. I told students I wouldn’t even read their stories if the lead didn’t capture my attention, so I spent most of my time — definitely too much — trying to get my lead perfect. Did I overemphasize the lead to students? As caught myself straying from my format, I wondered why in the world am I so stringent on following this format for this exercise? I had the perfect ending to my story, but it wasn’t a quote as I required. So I was forced to change my ending. Was I stifling my students’ creativity?

As I put the finishing touches on my story, the student in me was very proud, and the teacher in me was relieved. I pulled it off (story below).

It was truly educational for me, as a teacher, to force myself to do what I was asking my students to do. In this particular case, it reinforced in me the benefits of this exercise. But would that be the case if I forced myself to do everything I asked of my students?

It’s tails: VanMeter flips to journalism

A flip of the coin led Chenault VanMeter to journalism.

“I was torn between advertising and journalism,” said VanMeter, a Grady College senior. “So I flipped a coin. And that was it.”

Her unconventional decision-making methods matches her unique first name, Chenault. Named after her grandmother, VanMeter was raised on a 120-acre horse farm in Lexington, Kentucky. With four brothers, including her twin, carving out her own identity has always been a challenge.

“It was always really hectic, really loud,” VanMeter said. “It helped me become an outgoing person.”

Standing in the shadows of her brothers is difficult enough, but she also has lived under a strong VanMeter family legacy in her hometown, where the VanMeter name is plastered on roads, buildings and professional practices across town.

“Our family stretches back 12 generations (in Lexington),” VanMeter said. “I’m constantly learning new things about my family.”

With an entrenched family legacy in the land of Wildcats, it’s no surprise VanMeter — fueled by her desire to be adventurous — moved to the Bulldog nation to pursue her education. Although her family is extremely important to her, VanMeter is eager to gain new experiences on her own.

“It’s really important for people to get away,” she said. “There’s so much to see and do. If you don’t leave home, you can easily get stuck.”

With her heart set on Nashville, Tennessee, or Washington, D.C., VanMeter aims to tell people’s stories while building her own life story — with the chapter on her career opening with that fateful coin flip.

“It was tails,” she said. “So I picked journalism.”

Author: Joe Dennis

Journalist. Teacher. Announcer. Coach.

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