(Subject to Change)
Journalism 307 – Reporting
Reporting: Bellingham Neighborhood News
JOUR 307 spring 2011
MW 1 p.m. – 2:50 p.m.
Prof. Carolyn Nielsen
Office: CF 261, x3244
Office hours: M/W 10 a.m.-noon
Welcome to reporting. My goal is for this class to challenge you in new ways, familiarize you with cutting-edge practices in journalism and give you the confidence to excel in the field.
This class requires considerable work outside of the classroom. Bellingham neighborhoods (all accessible by bus) will be our reporting lab. Effective time management is an important skill in any profession; but is especially crucial in journalism, where reporters work on deadline and are at the mercy of their sources. Please plan ahead and use your time wisely so you don’t fall behind.
I do NOT recommend taking this course concurrently with The Western Front as both require considerable reporting outside of class and during business hours.
Catalog description: Prerequisite: Journalism 207, newswriting. Interviewing, news coverage of community news sources with emphasis on public-affairs reporting. Introduction to computerized database reporting and investigative techniques. Writing for the news media.
Course objectives: This class will sharpen your news judgment, reporting and writing skills as we learn how to cover city neighborhoods. “Hyper-local” coverage is highly prized in newsrooms today.
I have designed this course to introduce you to both the solid, timeless basics of great reporting and the cutting-edge skills required to thrive in today’s (and tomorrow’s) newsrooms. In designing this course, I spoke with a number of newspaper editors about what they are looking for in new reporters. By the end of the quarter, you’ll know what you need to know to succeed.
You will learn how to write compelling articles that show impacts on everyday people. You will learn how to work a beat and to find the stories that don't find you. In order to be successful, students must keep abreast of local current events and get out into the community and talk to people. That can be tricky at first, but it must be done, so just dive in.
Finally, you’ll learn how to plan and execute multi-media and interactive components for your coverage.
You are required to check the Blackboard site and your university e-mail account regularly for updates, assignments and discussions.
Classroom atmosphere: In this course, we will critique our own work and the work of others. Looking at strong examples and hearing others’ input on your writing is one of the best ways to improve. Sometimes it requires a thick skin. Critiques from the professor and the students should always be done in a constructive and professional manner.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or unsure how to improve, please visit me during my office hours. I am happy to help you identify your goals and what you can do to reach them.
To make the best use of everyone’s time, please let me know when you plan to visit my office by signing up online. It’s not required and you are welcome to stop by during office hours, but an appointment means you won’t have to wait and can have as much time as you need.
Required materials: AP Stylebook, When Words Collide by Lauren Kessler and Duncan McDonald, daily edition of The Bellingham Herald (available for free outside the journalism department office).
Recommended resource: Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark ($9 on Amazon.com).
Copy preparation: All copy must be double spaced and stapled. The student's last name must appear in the upper corner of each page. Put a "#" at the end of your story. A list of sources including full names and contact phone numbers must be included with every news story you submit.
Stories: Minimum of 650 words for stories. You must include at least three HUMAN sources. Do not use other newspaper publications as sources, even when crediting them. For example, avoid, “according to an article in The Bellingham Herald, Pike said…”
Rewrites: Rewrites are optional for every story and blog post except your final. Stories and blog posts are handed in on Wednesdays and returned on Mondays. Optional rewrites are due in class on the Wednesday after I hand back your work. You may earn a maximum of 10 points extra for rewriting. Late work is not eligible for rewriting. Work that earns a C or lower for a misspelled name/s or serious factual error cannot receive higher than a C, even after rewrite.
Rewriting often requires new reporting and adding significant information to your story or substantially reworking it. Making copy-editing changes will earn you a couple of points, but no more. When you turn in a rewrite, you MUST staple the graded first version to the new version. If you don’t, I cannot grade your rewrite. The ability to revise your work for a higher grade is a benefit, not a requirement. I will be firm about requiring your graded copy be stapled to your rewrite.
Credentials: People you interview may ask you which news organization you represent. Tell all sources that you are a journalism student at WWU and your assignment is for a class and for your neighborhood news site. Do not promise anyone your stories will not be published because your blogs are considered “publishing.”
Anonymous sources: Using anonymous sources damages your credibility and the value of your work. You must identify sources by first and last names. In very rare cases (such as crime victims) we may weigh anonymity, but never promise it to a source upfront. If you encounter a unique situation, see me.
Grading standards for articles: 100 points
/10 News peg
/10 Human Dimension
/10 AP style and grammar
/10 Balance and fairness
/5 Organization and structure
Grading standards for blog posts: 50 points
/10 News peg OR tie in to story
/10 Accuracy, including AP style and grammar
/10 Relevance to your audience (neighborhood)
/10 Clarity and writing style
/5 Organization (including length)
/5 Links (identified in text) or link sets (provided at bottom of post)
4 stories worth 10% each: 40%
3 blog posts worth 5% each: 15%
2 Listening Posts: 4% each: 8%
1 AP style/grammar quiz: 2%
Neighborhood Report (completed in 3 stages): 6% total
1 blog analysis: 5%
1 final story PLUS multi-media plan: 20%
Attendance and participation: 4%
A= Exceeds expectations. Strong First 5 Graphs, tight writing, logical organization, excellent sourcing, shows balance and fairness, observes grammar and AP style rules.
B= Meets all expectations but may contain minor holes, wordy or imprecise writing. Does not contain any factual errors.
C= Meets most of the expectations. Needs reorganization to make it read clearly. May lack balance, contain editorializing or a factual error. Papers with misspelled names will not receive higher than a C grade.
D= Meets less than half of expectations. Contains more than one factual error, lacks proper sourcing or shows serious editorializing.
F= Meets very few expectations. Shows sloppy work.
Honesty and conduct: Students will cover some stories that could be covered by local media outlets (although our goal is really to scoop them). Plagiarism will not be tolerated and will result in an F. Plagiarism includes using quotes that you did not obtain. Use of materials from another author without attribution or credit is strictly prohibited. Misrepresentation or fabrication of sources, information or quotes will also result in an F. Stories for this class may not be used for credit in other journalism classes and vice versa. Doing so will result in an F.
Students may refer to Appendix C of the Western Bulletin: Academic Dishonesty Policy and Procedure, the WWU Dept. of Sociology Student Writing Guide: The Student's Guide to Avoiding Plagiarism (PDF) and Western Libraries Plagiarism Information and Understanding and Avoiding Plagiarism.
Absences: You should not miss class unless you have an acceptable reason and you must contact your instructor in advance just as you would your editor at work. Acceptable reasons for missing a class include verifiable illness, emergency or death in the family. You may be asked to provide documentation or sources to back up the reason for your absence. If you must miss a class, I need to be notified ahead of time or you will not be allowed to make up any missed work and any assignments will be considered late.
Please do not come to class if you are ill. Do be sure to turn your work in to me on time via e-mail if you miss class due to illness.
Assistance: Western is committed to equal opportunity and non-discrimination in all programs and activities. Requests for accommodation or assistance should be directed to the Office of Student Life, x3844.
Learning to be a reporter: a hands-on model
I’ve set up this class to be as close to possible to a “real” reporting lab, but with a lot of guidance along the way. Hands-on experience is the best way to learn to be a reporter, but it needs to be done in a way that is not overwhelming. I have come up with a learning model that incorporates my own reporting experience as well as experience I have gained from training at the National Institute on Computer Assisted Reporting, The Poynter Institute and the Associated Press Managing Editors NewsTrain program.
The Neighborhood Report is designed to be a treasure hunt of sorts, familiarizing you with public records and human sources. You will learn what kind of paper documents can help you develop story ideas and provide context for your stories. You will learn how to find the “power brokers” on your beat and cultivate them as sources. You will learn the basics of finding which elected officials are in charge of what and how that affects your neighborhood. Figuring out the lay of the land is a crucial skill for reporters. This is where that process starts. The Neighborhood Report is divided into three sections, each with a different focus. Don’t view this assignment as a standalone. It’s meant to intertwine with your Listening Post.
The Listening Post is at the heart of reporting. It involves getting beyond the talking heads to find out what “real people” are thinking and talking about. Too often, journalists rely on elected officials or people in power to define the public agenda or speak on behalf of citizens. Taking journalism back to the streets will help you develop the type of authentic, compelling, untold stories with which readers connect deeply. Your Neighborhood Report will help you determine possible locations and topics of discussion for your Listening Posts. Your Listening Posts, in turn, will generate story ideas.
The Story is exactly what you know it to be. We’ll work on enhancing your interviewing, writing and organization skills. In the old days (before the Internet), publishing the story was the end of the reporting process. Now, publishing the story is the beginning of the news cycle because it gives the public the opportunity to comment. Demands for online material and interactivity mean reporters need to know how to blog.
The Blog Post is the next step after your story. Blog posts will often, but not always, follow up on or develop a different angle from your story. Sometimes, a blog post might lead you to a story. You might ask readers to weigh in on a topic, then write about it. Knowing how to blog as a reporter is essential in today’s newsrooms.
Multimedia elements come last on this list, but should not be an afterthought. Neighborhood Reports might help you find original documents to post on your news site. You might choose to gather audio or take photos during a Listening Post and add that to your news site. You might make a quick Google map to show where things are located. During each step of this process, always be thinking in terms of multimedia elements. Make it a habit. Soon enough, it will feel like something you have always done. You’ll be comfortable coming up with multimedia ideas and they’ll no longer feel like something “extra.” Really, they are a key part of the process.