Wednesday, April 4, 2007

How I drive my students nuts

An image, taken from a Journalism 202 PowerPoint, of an ice rescue attempt that is about to go bad. As part of an in-class exercise, journalism must deal with numerous unexpected twists in this story.

Tomorrow and Friday, in my Introduction to Writing for the Mass Media class, students will take part in an in-class exercise that involves a tragedy.
A man riding an all-terrain vehicle on an ice-covered pond breaks through the ice, becomes hypothermic in the frigid water and drowns, despite rescuers' efforts. It's based on a real event I covered a number of years ago.
This fictional event takes place at an Isabella County park just outside Clare.
The students, through a PowerPoint presentation, "witness" the end of the tragedy. Their task will be to write a relevant, powerful news story.

The characters the students will meet include:

• Clare Police Chief Dwayne Miedzianowski, who is first on the scene;
• Isabella County Sheriff Leo Mioduszewski, who arrives later and takes command;
(Skill No. 1: Spell all the names correctly and get the titles correct;
(Skill No. 2: Keep straight the difference between sheriff's departments and police departments
Leo Mioduszewski, left,
and Dwayne Miedzianowski.
Yes, they're real people.

• Clare firefighter Alexander Aswabin, a Canadian Anishinabe who was born near Michipicoten and who grew up on Wikwemikong Reserve on Manitoulin. He crawls across the ice, gets close to the victim, but breaks through the ice himself.
(Skill No. 3: Is his ethnic heritage relevant to the story?)
• Witness Guido "Tuna" DiFrangelantonio, 61, of Grand
Rapids, who saw the victim break through the ice and called 9-1-1. He requests that his first name not be used. ("People hear the name 'Guido' and they think I'm a hood. Call me Guido in the newspaper and I'll break your knees.")
(Skill No. 4: Remember that unofficial sources can be as important as official sources, but must be used with care;
(Skill No. 5: Treat sources with respect, especially those who are not used to dealing with the media.
(And see Skill No. 1.)
• The victim's widow, who is initially reluctant to talk to the press. ("Media jackals! You're just here to exploit me in my time of tragedy!")
(Skill No. 6: Many victims and survivors really do want to talk, if you find a way to let them know you really will listen.)
The best students will follow the twists and turns in the story, and provide detailed, objective, yet passionate reporting.

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