Find someone you think is interesting and newsworthy
(someone who’s spending her summer doing something interesting, has
overcome difficulties, has an unusual job or hobby, goes out of his way to help
others, won a prestigious award, etc.).
Write about the person without stating any of your own
opinions in the story. Use third person (he said, she did), with accurate
quotes in the person’s own words.
Try to capture a sense of the individual’s personality and mood.
Quote at least two other people who know the subject of
your story well. Get an action photo of your subject – either take it
yourself or get one from them. A list of sources and contact information is
Your story should be between 600 and 800 words. By noon on Feb. 15, you must e-mail your story idea proposal to email@example.com (We will also discuss it in class that day). Your story is due by 11:59 p.m. on March 9. You will have an opportunity to revise your story and re-submit it for a new grade. All items should be
e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org . No extensions
will be given.
It is important that you begin work on this assignment
immediately because it will take you several hours to conduct interviews and
write a good story. Additionally, your sources may not be able to set aside
time to interview, if you wait until the last moment.
Choosing a Topic for Your
I must approve any topic. If you want to change your topic later, you can. But you must confirm with me. If you submit a topic I didn't approve, you automatically lose 2 letter grades.
Pick something newsworthy to many people, not just you. Being in a sorority, doing community service, and playing the cello while working and maintaining a B-plus average is impressive. But it's not newsworthy. Many students successfully juggle many tasks. However, if the same student was the only person to win a national award for community service or just got signed by a professional orchestra, that would be newsworthy. Similarly, being a member of an AU sports team takes talent but it is not newsworthy. However, if the athlete set a school record for points scored or got drafted by a professional team, that's newsworthy.
In addition, keep in mind: If another reporter has already published a story about your subject, s/he's not newsworthy. The person is old news. Choose someone else. Choose someone you have access to and whom you can interview (several times, if necessary). Make sure the person is OK with being written about in a story that may potentially be published. Avoid writing about close friends, significant others, family members and anyone who has authority over you (e.g., a boss, a professor, etc.). This is a conflict of interest and will result in a grade of F. Don't write about dead people -- that's an obituary, not a profile. Remember, you must be able to interview the person you are writing about. In addition, you will need at least two other sources.
Once I approve your topic, get working on the story and set up interviews ASAP. Your sources' schedules may not align with yours, so if you wait till the last minute, or an interview falls through, you're out of luck. You need to start working on this story immediately so that you can change directions -- and/or topics -- if you realize your original idea isn't going to pan out. Excuses will not be accepted. Nor will late stories, which will result in an F.
How to Write a Profile
A profile story is a portrait of a person in words. Like
the best painted portraits, the best profiles capture the character, spirit and
style of their subjects. They delve beneath the surface to look at what
motivates people, what excites them, what makes them interesting. Good profiles
get into the heart of the person and find out what makes them tick.
The problem is that lives are hard to fit into newspaper
articles, no matter how much space is allotted for them. Reporters who simply
try to cram into a profile all the facts they can come up with inevitably end
up with something more like a narrative version of a resume than a journalism story.
Like all other stories, profiles must have an angle, a
primary theme. That theme should be introduced in the lead, it should be
explored and often it will be returned to at the end of the story. Something of
a person’s character, spirit and style will then be revealed through that
Whatever the theme, it takes a thorough understanding of a
person’s life to create a revealing sketch of that life. Reporters should
spend time with their subjects while they’re doing whatever makes them
newsworthy. For example, if you’re writing about a ballerina, try to observe
her performing on stage or at least practicing in her dance studio.
Good profiles - and all good journalism stories - show,
instead of telling. Use all five senses when you interview someone. What are
they wearing? Do they fiddle nervously with their pencil? Is there a chocolate
smudge on their shirt? Is their hair stylishly spiked?
Because a profile cannot be complete without quotes - there
is no way to write a profile without extensive interviewing. Frequently, more
than one interview is necessary unless the writer already knows his subject
well Good profiles also contain quotes from people who know the subject of your
story well. Spice your story with the words of family, friends, enemies and the
Finally, good profiles strike the appropriate tone. Think about your profile - is it someone
who is involved in a serious issue, like eating disorders? You probably want to
be more serious in your tone. Is it someone playful - a comic book artist,
perhaps? You can be more playful. But remember - your personal opinion is not
appropriate. You are there to merely paint a picture of this person - to let
the facts speak for themselves.
here to see examples of good profiles written by my former journalism
students. All of these stories were eventually published in newspapers.
Follow these steps when working on your profile story:
1. BEFORE INTERVIEW
- Before you interview or write
the story, think about your goal -- the type of story you want to write,
the space you'll have to tell it in, where it'll be published, and who'll
be reading it.
- Decide what your angle is:
What is interesting or unusual about this person? What is this person's
- All of these things will
affect the direction you take with your story (as well as how freely your
subject talks with you
- Get background info: Do a
LexisNexis search for old newspaper articles about your subject and/or do
a Google search. Does the person have a personal website or a bio on his company’s
website? Ask him to e-mail you his resume.
- You may find something interesting
in the resume. For example, if you’re interviewing a teacher, you
may find that your subject went to private, exclusive, costly schools all
her life but has chosen to teach at a very poor school. What inspired this
choice? Why is this rewarding for her? Or you may see that she has won
awards in soccer in college, and you didn't know she was a former jock. Do your research before you show up!
- Talk to people who know them
well (friends, coaches, coworkers, mentors, parents, siblings, even
enemies). Get the correct spelling of names and their qualifications/titles.
2. SETTING UP INTERVIEW
- Assemble Tools: notepad, tape/digital
recorder, camera, pens
- Test tape recorder
- Meet them at place they are
comfortable but not too distracted. Meet at time they aren’t too
- Prepare questions to ask in
advance. Group questions into categories.
3. AT INTERVIEW
- The point of an interview is
to find out what is interesting about the other person and help them get
comfortable talking to you so they'll spill the beans and do it in an
interesting, quotable, clear way.
- The initial interview should
focus on making the subject comfortable as well as getting general background
information out of the way. The writer should try to make his subject as
comfortable as possible. In some situations, the interviews should be held
in neutral territory, but for some subjects the interview may go smoother
is he is in a familiar atmosphere.
- Regardless of where the
interview takes place, it should always begin with small talk - develop a
rapport with the subject. And once you begin the official interview, start
with the easy questions first to get them talking about themselves. Ask them
if it’s OK to tape record them for accuracy. Thank them for their
time and tell them the purpose of your interview.
- Come prepared with several
questions, but be let a natural conversation develop. A reporter's biggest
mistake is either to go into an interview with no questions or to go into
an interview with a list of question and not deviate from the list.
- A good reporter begins an
interview with a set of questions, but knows when to add impromptu
questions that will get a subject to continue on a train of thought if it
- Example: Reporter asks,
"What was the goal of the fundraiser'?" Subject answers,
"We wanted to make the club look good; no really the goal was to earn
enough money to help build a new center for migrant worker education"
Instead of skipping to the next question a good reporter follows up on the
first part of that answer to find out if there was something behind it.
"What did you mean that you wanted to make the club look good'?"
the reporter asks next.
- Be conversational but let the
source do most of the talking. Never
supply or suggest an answer. Be patient and wait for it.
- Good reporting skills equal
good observation and listening skills. If you don’t understand
something, ask the person to explain. Underline or circle all names,
ideas, etc you’re unsure of so you can double check them.
- A good reporter also spends a
lot of time looking at the subject as well as the subject’s
surroundings. It is a good idea to interview a person in their office,
classroom or home if possible because a reporter will always learn more
about person by watching him in his environment not yours.
- Notice details in the
subject's environment, her personal habits, her appearance, etc.: Does she
have knitting on a corner of her desk? Does she wear a locket every day;
whose picture is inside? Does she have readily visible tattoos; if so,
what's the story behind them? Does she roar up to work or school or
wherever on a Harley every day, in a Mercedes, or in a hybrid electric/gas
car? Does she flinch every time she sees someone toss a bit of trash on
- Closely observing the things a
person does and doesn't do, the way the person acts and reacts, what the
person surrounds himself/herself with -- these are all clues to what makes
the person tick. Pay attention. Ask questions.
- Take notes even if
you’re recording. Batteries die, tapes get misplaced or stolen,
things happen. Your notes will provide a backup and save you time.
Reviewing and transcribing your entire interview will take forever. Rather,
keep notes, review them and figure out which quotes you want to use. Then
go back and listen to the tape to make sure you quote them correctly.
- You have lots of options. You
can ask your subject the standard background information just to get the
routine stuff out of the way and then move on to other questions.
- If your subject doesn’t
seem talkative or provides mostly “yes” and “no”
responses, try prodding them a little. For example, if you ask him,
“Do you like your job?” and he answers “yes,”
follow up with “why do you like it?” If
he responds, “Because it gives me a lot of free time,” follow
up with, “What do you like to do in your free time and why do you
enjoy doing it?”
- What follows are some of the
many questions you may want to ask:
- Where did you go to college?
What degrees do you have? What, if any, further degrees or certifications
are you pursuing? Do you have any other special training that has prepared
you for your career?
- Where have you worked before
- What honors/awards have you
- Could you give some personal
background (single/married, children, etc.)?
- Are you involved in any
community organizations (charities, church, etc.)?
- What are your hobbies?
- Where did you grow up? Did you
move around a lot? If yes, how did this affect you? If no, how did the
stability of living in one place all your life affect you?
- Are there any political or
social issues you feel passionately about?
Do you have a nickname?
- List your favorites (book,
movie or play, quote, poem, website, type of food or individual dish,
music genre, song, band or individual musician, perfume, clothing style or
- Where have you traveled?
- Tell me about your current job
(activity, whatever)? What attracted you to it?
- How do you break it down and
- How do you keep a healthy
- What are your greatest
stresses and what causes you the most anxiety in your life?
- What is most rewarding about
your job; what makes it all worthwhile?
- What are the most critical
problems faced by people in your field in this city/state/country? How do
you think these problems should be handled?
- What's the hardest thing for
you about being a _____? How do you address that?
- What comes easiest to you as a
- Who was your favorite _______
- So far what's been your most
embarrassing moment as a ________?
- What's the newest, freshest
approach you are bringing to your job?
- What's the next skill or
knowledge set you want to add to your repertoire to make you a better
- Favorite weekend activity?
- What's your favorite funny
story about yourself?
- Name one thing about yourself
that most people don't know.
- List three misconceptions that
people often have about you (and, if none, why).
- What's your life plan? What do
you plan to have accomplished in five, 10, 20, and 50 years -- personally
- What was your favorite toy (or
game) as a child, and why?
- What makes you laugh?
- Best compliment you've ever
- Anything else you’d like
- Did the person have a model or
idol who they aspired to be as a youth?
- Did the person have specific
goals as a youth? How did they go about achieving those goals?
- Who has helped them during
their personal or professional career?
- Has there been a defining
moment in that person's life that made them decide
to take the direction in life that they did?
- Does the person have advice to
offer people who are aspiring to be as successful as he/she?
- Tell me something about
yourself that people might not readily know.
5. AT END
Thank them for their time and ask them if it’s OK for
you to contact them again if they have questions. Ask them if there’s
anyone else they should talk to about them. Give them a timeline for when you
plan to write your story and where you hope to publish it, if you know.
However, do not agree to show them your story before you publish it. Otherwise,
you will be inviting censorship. If they ask why they can’t see your
story before you submit it, you can explain that it’s impractical given
your tight deadline and that your journalism professor prohibits it.
Reflect on the interview and try to list your main points
of the story. What are the highlights? Jot down any ideas you have for writing
the story. As soon as possible, rewrite your notes so they make sense to you.
Use tape recorder to fill in gaps or clarify things. Contact source again to
supply missing info.