News Reporting & Writing Workshop
JMSC0108, Spring 2012
Journalism and Media Studies Centre
The University of Hong Kong
Office hours: By appointment
Class Time/Location: Lecture: Monday 4 p.m.-4:55 p.m., EH 101
Lab A: Tuesday 4 p.m.- 5:55 p.m., Digital Media Lab
Lab B: Thursday 5 p.m.- 6:55 p.m., Digital Media Lab
This course aims to expose you to basic journalistic principles, and to build fundamental reporting and writing skills. These goals are pursued in lectures, assignments, and reporting exercises that echo the situations professional journalists face. By the end of the course, you can expect to have a good grasp of the fundamental issues and methods of gathering news & writing news stories. You will also have the opportunity to improve your English-language writing skills, in order to convey facts in straightforward and understandable fashion.
The course will consist of 12 one-hour lectures and 11 two-hour lab sessions. The lectures will discuss the role & responsibility of the news media, the different types of news stories and how they’re constructed, how news is gathered, proper use of Internet-based reporting resources, and the ethics and morality of Journalism, among other topics. Each lab session will provide an opportunity to apply the concepts discussed in the lectures and to improve writing & reporting skills.
Attendance, both for lectures and lab sessions, is obligatory. Students are required to show up on time.
There is no textbook for this course, although regular required reading assignments related to our study of journalistic issues and news writing styles will be posted on the class blog. Please check the class blog regularly so you don’t miss assignments or other important communications about the course. The news writing you will do in this course is an opportunity to improve your general command of written English. We urge local and mainland students to obtain a copy of “Understanding English Grammar: A Course Book for Chinese Learners of English,” which is available at the Hong Kong University Press Showroom behind the HKU Library. This is a book with easy-to-follow exercises designed particularly for Chinese students for whom English is a second language.
Journalists are readers and consumers of news. To be effective in their work, they must know what is happening, in their area of responsibility or expertise, in their community, and in the world. As residents of Hong Kong, therefore, you must read the South China Morning Post and one international English-language newspaper every day during the semester. All SCMP stories are available electronically on Factiva (accessible via the HKU Library Web site) the day of publication; physical copies of the SCMP are also available at Eliot Hall. Some recommended international publications are the International Herald-Tribune (global.nytimes.com), BBC News (news.bbc.co.uk), international edition of CNN.com (cnn.com) and The Wall Street Journal (wsj.com). The first three publications are available for free online at the relevant Web site; WSJ stories can be accessed for free via Google News or Google Reader, or through Factiva. Links will also be posted on the class blog.
The more informed you are about current news, the more you will benefit from the lectures and the labs – and the better you will perform on the assignments.
We also strongly recommend two English-language writing guides that are available online. The first is one of the English-language world’s most famous books on the subject, “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White (www.bartleby.com/141/). The second is “The Economist Style Guide,” by John Grimond of the Economist (www.economist.com/research/StyleGuide/). A very helpful, if a bit too U.S.-centric, textbook on reporting & writing is Melvin Mencher’s “News Reporting & Writing.” A copy is available on reserve in the HKU Library.
COPY & COMMUNICATION
All assignments must be submitted on time, and in electronic form. You may send assignments from your HKU email account or a personal email account, but you must use the same one email account for the duration of the course. All assignments must be executed in a professional manner, and should be publication-ready. Outstanding work may be considered for inclusion in a JMSC or outside publication.
Please check your email and the class blog regularly to ensure you don’t miss assignments and other communication related to the class. Journalists must be resourceful, and they must be flexible: the news does not happen according to a schedule, and journalists must adapt according to events of the moment. During this course, we may occasionally change direction as events and opportunities dictate.
All work for this class must be entirely your own. Any plagiarism, or fabrication of quotes, facts or events will have severe consequences.
Your assignments will be returned to you via email with comments and edits, usually within one week of submission.
Two major out-of-class assignments are due before the end of the course: a “hard” news story based on an event of your choosing that you personally witness, and a feature story on a topic of your choosing that you also cover in person. These assignments will be your chance to show what you have learned during the course.
You must submit details of both assignments – topics, times, places – in March (details below). The finished stories are not due until the final weeks of the course, but as they will account for 40% of your grade, you should start planning early to ensure you have enough time to produce thoroughly reported and polished news stories. Information relevant to these assignments and explanations of all terms will be discussed as the course proceeds, well before the assignments are due.
These out-of-class assignments are not academic papers that can be researched solely from the Internet or copied from the daily news media. These two assignments require you to be present at the scene of whatever your topic is, to witness events and interview people on your own. You may supplement the facts you personally gather with information from books, newspapers or the Internet, but you must clearly cite any such material you use in your stories. Wikipedia can sometimes be a good place to start a search for background information, but it is not an acceptable source of information on its own.
Out-of-class Assignment 1: Choose a “hard news” or “spot news” event, on or off campus, to cover and write about. This must be something that you witness as it is happening: a speech, a demonstration, a competition, etc. You will be expected to cover the event in person and to interview at least three people connected to the event, including participants and spectators, and include their comments in the finished piece.
Submit date, time, place and nature of your event by e-mail by March 2 10:30 a.m. The event itself can take place any time before the final submission date, as long as you witness it as it happens and take notes. The finished hard news story must be submitted by e-mail no later than 11:59 p.m. April 6. The completed story should be no longer than 500 words.
Out-of-class Assignment 2: Think of an idea for a “feature” story. It can be about a person, an organization, a trend, or some other topic (feature stories will be explained and discussed at length during the course). Again, you must do on-the-spot reporting, and interview and quote in your article people whose comments are relevant to the story.
Conduct preliminary research and prepare a one-page memo on your topic including theme, locations, and names or types of people who will appear in the story. Submit the memo by e-mail by 11:59 p.m. March 30. The finished feature story must be submitted by e-mail no later than April 27. The completed story should be no longer than 1,250 words.
Lab assignments: 40%
Class participation: 20%
Special assignments: 40%
Kevin Voigt has worked for print, radio and television news companies ranging from small newspapers in the U.S. to The Wall Street Journal. He is currently Asia business editor for CNN.com International. From 2000 to 2005, he worked as a staff writer for the Wall Street Journal Asia, covering breaking news such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 2003 SARS outbreak and the 2004 South Asia Tsunami. His feature writing has taken him from tribal areas of central India to the mountainous hot springs of Japan. An experienced freelance journalist and consultant, he has done public relations work for companies such as Microsoft and Ogilvy Public Relations, as well as media training and ghost writing books and articles for executives. He was a contributor to The Far Eastern Economic Review and made regular appearances on CNN and CNBC Asia. From 1997 to 1999 he was co-host of a weekly Japanese radio program in rural Kyushu.
Week 1: January 16
“The Reporter and the Reporter’s Responsibility to Society.” Men and women around the world work around the clock for newspapers and magazines, for TV and radio, and for online services, gathering news and information. Whatever tools they use, their reporting must be accurate, fair and complete, their writing clear and concise. Reporters occupy a privileged place in society, and in turn they owe a special duty to the public, because the public relies and acts on information that reporters provide.
Assignment: Write a self introduction — tell me about yourself in in 500 words or less. Must include why you’re interested in studying journalism.
Please write on a word document with the file name: (Your name) JMSC 0108 self intro
Email finished assignment to email@example.com with the subject line “(Your name) JMSC 0108 Assignment self intro” by 9 p.m. on Thursday, January 19.
Week 2: January 30
“The Nature and Characteristics of News.” News is different things to different people and to different types of news media. The editors who decide what the news is on any particular day make their decisions based on the product they are producing and the audience they serve. Their decisions also are based on the weight they give a traditional set of news elements.
Week 3: February 6
Part I: “The Reporter at Work.” Reporters report on police, courts and governments. They cover fires, accidents and disasters, local and national politics. They write about medicine, law, business and the environment. In any newsroom, there are many types of reporters, but basically they fit three categories: general assignment, beat and specialty.
Part II: “The Lede.” Reporters’ stories must have strong beginnings – or “leads” (often spelled “ledes”) – to entice readers to keep reading. Ledes can be one, two or three paragraphs, or only a few words. There are “hard” news ledes, which tell the reader in a nutshell what of significance or interest has just occurred, and “soft” news ledes, which grab the reader’s attention and usually introduce a “feature” story. Writing the lede is one of the most important, and often the most difficult, part of writing a story.
Tuesday and Thursday labs: Practice writing hard news ledes.
Week 4: February 13
Part 1: “News Sources.” A reporter’s information comes from many different sources. These “news sources” can be government officials, policemen, civil servants, experts in a particular area, eyewitnesses to events, the man in the street – all manner of people. News sources can also be documents: press releases, annual company statements, records of real estate transactions, reports by legislative committees, and many others. These, along with the reporter’s personal observations, are combined in various ways to form news stories.
Part 2: “Story Structure.” Good reporting and a well-crafted lede are wasted if what follows does not support, amplify and explain the lede.
All good writing is well organized and proceeds from a plan. Each sentence and each paragraph form part of a structured whole. Even complex stories can be structured according to a simple four-step formula that helps writers organize their material and deliver what they promise to readers.
News stories have to be accurate and complete, but equally importantly, they have to be understandable, and proper structure is essential for this. If the reader cannot follow what you have written, you have wasted everyone’s time.
Tuesday and Thursday labs: Practice writing hard news stories using principles of story structure and good writing discussed in lectures.
Week 5: February 20
“Writing Well.” Writing should be simple, concise and understandable. Use simple words instead of complex ones. Don’t use any more words than a sentence requires. Avoid repetition and redundancies, clichés and jargon. Use action verbs and vivid language. Choose every individual word carefully. Use words your reader can “see” – in other words, “show, don’t tell.” Make information relevant to the reader’s experience. Find a writing style that’s right for the topic. Write to express information, not to impress the reader.
Tuesday and Thursday labs: Further practice in writing hard news.
Week 6: February 27
“Dealing with News Sources/The Art of the Interview Pt. 1” Information obtained from news sources is used in different ways. The reporter should always aim to identify sources of information to the greatest extent possible, but full identification of sources is not always possible. Sometimes people talk “on the record,” meaning their identities and whatever they say can be published in full. Sometimes, news sources will place conditions on the use of what they say and how they can be identified, and the reporter is bound to honor any agreement made in advance.
Tuesday and Thursday labs: Practice writing hard news stories obtained from different types of sources.
DEADLINE: Out-of-class hard news topics due March 2 10:30am
March 5 – March 10: Reading Week – no lecture or labs
Week 7: March 12
“Can I Quote You?” Reporters are rarely experts in the topics they cover. They should be experts at finding things out. In part, in order to do this, they must become skilled in the art of interviewing, and then in quoting the people who do know things, whether it is the construction worker who witnessed a building collapse, or an accomplished scientist in a given field, or a university professor who is an expert on the political situation in Hong Kong. Reporters must do their homework before an important interview, in order to know their subject and ask intelligent questions. Quotes must be handled carefully, and transcribed accurately.
Tuesday and Thursday labs: Practice in taking notes and quoting news sources accurately.
Week 8: March 19
“Soft News 1 – The Feature Story.” Most media present a mix of stories that fit into two basic categories: “hard” and “soft.” Soft news, or “features,” go by a variety of names: “sidebars,” “color stories,” “background stories,” “trend stories,” “human interest stories,” “interviews,” “profiles,” among others. Some soft news stories are tied to hard news, and some have no relation at all to the news of the day. Features can be written about light-hearted subjects or serious subjects, and they can evoke emotion.
Tuesday and Thursday labs: Practice in writing feature stories.
Week 9: March 26
DEADLINE: Out-of-class feature topics due March 30 by 11:59 p.m.
“Soft News 2 – Deconstructing the Feature.” Like the hard news story, the feature generally follows a certain structure. Features can start in a number of ways: with a quotation from one of the central characters, with a teasing lede, with an “anecdotal” lede. Features should contain a lot of quotes, and a lot of colorful description. The feature gives the journalist the best opportunity to show creativity and superior writing.
Tuesday and Thursday labs: More discussion and practice with feature stories.
Week 10: April 2
DEADLINE: Completed hard news stories due April 6 11:59 p.m.
“The Internet as a Journalism Tool.” The Internet has become an extremely valuable tool for information gathering. Vast amounts of information, which formerly required phone calls or personal visits, are now available at the push of a computer button. But there are dangers in using the Internet: information there is often inaccurate, incomplete, biased, or out of date. When using the Internet, always try to find primary sources. Check the date of a posting to make sure the information is current. Use common sense to determine whether an on-line source is authoritative and reliable.
Tuesday and Thursday labs: Finding and using information from the Internet.
Week 11: April 16
“Writing for Different Types of Media.” The same story will be written differently depending on the medium. Stories for newspapers, wire services and on-line journals will be written one way, stories for news magazines another, for radio and television yet another. The same basic rules of journalism apply in all cases, but reporters using, for example, newspaper style to write a radio story will be doing their audiences a disservice.
Tuesday and Thursday labs: Practice writing the same facts for different media.
Week 12: April 23
“Ethics and Morality in Journalism.” Journalism is an integral part of the balancing act between competing interests in a society. As such, journalism itself must be balanced. It must walk the fine line between the public’s right to know and intrusions on personal privacy. Conflicts of interest between a reporter’s work and personal considerations cannot be allowed. News organizations usually restrict the amount and types of gifts editorial employees can accept. Reporters must never accept money or other favors in return for writing something, or for leaving facts out of a story. Journalism is far more complex than it is portrayed in movie and television dramas, and getting it right is far more difficult than it appears. Despite the difficulties, journalists have to strive for consistent accuracy, fairness, and good, understandable writing, while upholding ethical standards.
Tuesday and Thursday labs: Dissection of special assignment hard news stories, brief review of basic principles of news writing.
DEADLINE: Completed feature stories due April 27 10:30am