Reporting and Writing
JMSC6001 (Wednesday evening class), Autumn 2011
Instructor: Kevin Voigt
Classes: Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. to 9:25 p.m.
Digital Media Lab, Eliot Hall
Office and hours: By appointment
Welcome to Reporting and Writing, a core course for Master of Journalism students. It is a core course because all useful journalism, whether for newspapers, magazines, broadcast news or online media, requires quality reporting and writing. In any medium, presentation may enhance initial interest in a story, but in the end the story’s value to its audience will rest on the quality of its reporting and its writing. The more skilled you are at these two crafts, the better you can tell a story, no matter whom you are writing for.
The first major goal of this course is to develop your reporting instincts and skills so that you can confidently undertake a story assignment by a professional news organization; that is, you can assess the story’s potential news value, determine some of the key questions to ask and reactions to obtain from people and organizations involved, and know where to begin finding the material you will need to produce the story.
The second major goal of this course is to develop your writing skills to enable you to organize a set of facts, including those you personally collect as well as those obtained from other news sources, into a story that accurately, completely, clearly, fairly and succinctly communicates the information in traditional journalistic news story forms.
Intended Learning Outcomes
1. Evaluate the potential news value of different stories for different sets of readers.
2. Determine some of the key questions to ask and reactions to get on a news story.
3. Identify some of the key sources where information for a news story might exist.
4. Compose and write “ledes,” the vital beginnings to news stories that in many cases determine whether readers will continue reading.
5. Compose, organize and write sets of facts into complete and structured stories that follow journalistic news forms.
6. Understand and use the different levels of attribution for interviewing and quoting sources.
For purposes of class discussion, you will be introduced to other topics, including the differences between what is known as “hard news” or “spot news” and other journalistic story forms (which will not be part of the focus in this course).
Assessment Tasks and Standards
Fifty percent of your grade will be based on your work on reporting and writing assignments in and out of the Digital Media Lab. The lab is your newsroom and your instructor is your editor. The assignments in the lab will begin with basic material and grow more advanced until the six skill sets listed above are covered. The skill sets will be previewed before they are taught and evaluated afterward.
Thirty percent of your grade will be based on a final reporting and writing assignment whose topic will be decided near the end of the term. You will be expected to propose possible topics after the Reading Week break. The assignment will be completed outside of class time and be evaluated according to its level of conformance with all six skill sets.
Twenty percent of your grade will be based on your understanding and knowledge of news. During the term, you will be asked to prepare or comment on “budgets” of news stories that our newsroom should cover on a particular day, and to suggest particular “angles” our reporters should pursue as they report on these stories. Your performance will be evaluated according to its level of conformance with the first three skill sets listed above.
Appendix 1 below, “Course Grade Descriptors,” explains how your work translates into standards and grades.
Appendix 2, “Grading Rubric,” explains how grades will be recorded throughout the term.
Texts and Required Reading
The Universal Journalist, by David Randall (available at the university bookstore).
Economist Style Guide, by John Grimond The Economist (available online at http://www.economist.com/research/StyleGuide/).
You Can Write Better English, by Barry Kalb (available at the JMSC office for 6001 students).
A few words about the required texts: The Randall book provides a good overview of journalism by a long-time practitioner. Some chapters will form the backdrop of some of our discussions in the early weeks of our class, and will be noted in postings on our class website.
The Economist style guide is not a text, but simply a good place to go if you have questions about how to handle style, grammar and punctuation issues.
The Kalb book (published by JMSC lecturer Barry Kalb) is also a handbook, one that deals in particular with the mistakes that native Chinese speakers routinely make when writing in English. The rules it discusses, however, are valid for anyone. It should be read through early in the course, and consulted whenever necessary.
Journalists are avid consumers of news, and we expect you to come to class ready to talk about major events in the world, in Asia and in Hong Kong. You have many choices for news. Two wire services – The Associated Press at www.ap.org and Reuters at www.reuters.com – offer worldwide coverage. You can read the Guardian at www.guardian.co.uk and International Herald-Tribune at www.iht.com. Good television alternatives include the BBC at news.bbc.co.uk and CNN at edition.cnn.com. The Economist at www.economist.com and Time at www.time.com/time are good choices for analysis and commentary. In Hong Kong, the leading English-language news provider, the South China Morning Post is behind a paywall, but free copies of its print edition are available at the JMSC and HKU Libraries. Also, The Standard at www.thestandard.com.hk. If you are not already in the habit, you should spend at least 30 minutes each day visiting at least two major news sites.
Attendance, Expectations and Academic Honesty
Timely attendance is mandatory. If you must be absent, advise the instructor beforehand. Multiple absences or habitual tardiness will affect your grade.
As noted earlier, come to class prepared to discuss the news. Be prepared to discuss any handouts from the instructor by the following class. You may be asked to lead the discussions.
Assignments must appear professional. That means double-spaced, with standard margins and (in the case of hard copy) room left at the top of the first page for comments.
All work must have your name at the top left-hand corner, and the name of the file (the “slug”) under that. The slug must be descriptive: do not write simply “assignment #1;” write “first lede-writing exercise” or “crime story” or whatever the assignment is about. Follow a similar form for e-mails. In the “subject” line, put your name and the story slug. Do not put your name on an e-mail but forget to put the name on the attached assignment.
You will be required to meet with the lecturer one on one at least once during the course, to discuss your progress and any issues that you or the lecturer feels are relevant.
Your work must be fully your own. Any plagiarism or fabrication of quotes, facts or events will have immediate and severe consequences. (Read “What is plagiarism?” on HKU website.)
We expect everyone to be open-minded, inquisitive, cooperative and respectful of one another’s ideas and comments.
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.
This grid describes our weekly learning objectives in Reporting and Writing. It also lists our course readings and exercises (subject to change as breaking news and reporting opportunities arise) as well as how you will develop the skills you seek, and how we will assess whether you are achieving your goals.
|Learning Objectives||Readings||Lab Work||Assessed Outcomes|
|Full Semester||Develop news instincts, knowledge and skills; develop command of news reporting and writing forms||The Universal Journalist (also see course syllabus for daily readings)||1,2,3,4,5,6|
|Sept. 7||News values and elements; composing and writing ledes to news stories||Chaps. 1, 2, 3, The Universal Journalist (also see class website)||News discussions; lede-writing exercises||4|
|Sept. 14||The art of reporting; composing and writing news stories||Chaps. 4, 5, The Universal Journalist (also see class website)||News discussions; lede-writing reviews and exercises||4|
|Sept. 21||Accuracy and clarity; writing news stories from provided facts||Chaps. 11, 13, The Universal Journalist (also see class website)||News discussions, story-writing reviews/exercises||4,5|
|Sept. 28||Fairness and balance; writing news stories from provided facts||See class website for readings||News discussions, story-writing reviews/exercises||4,5|
|Oct 12||Attribution, quotation and levels of sources; writing news story from community event (graded exercise)||Chaps. 6, 7,16, The Universal Journalist (also see class website)||News discussions, story-writing reviews/exercises||1,2,3,4,5,6|
|Oct. 19||Reading Week,
News story from campus or community event (2nd graded exercise)
|See class website for readings||News discussions, story-writing reviews/exercises||1,2,3,4,5,6|
News story from community event (3rd graded exercise)
Final project ideas due
|See class website for readings||News discussions, story-writing reviews/exercises||1,2,3,4,5,6|
|Digital journalism presentation, discussion; discussion of project suggestions||Chap. 19, The Universal Journalist (also see class website)||Using digital tools for reporters||1,2,3,4,5,6|
|Nov. 16||Digital journalism; (4th graded exercise); news budgets||See class website for readings||Review and editing of class work in preparation for final assignment||1,2,3|
|Nov. 23||Student presentation of newsroom budgets||See class website for readings||1,2,3|
|Nov. 30||Student presentation of newsroom budgets||See class website for readings||1,2,3|
|Review of semester course goals; career and job discussions||Final review of coursework and materials||n/a|
Dec. 8 Final reporting & writing project is due
Appendix 1: Course Grade Descriptors
|1. Evaluation of News||Sophisticated knowledge of what news is for different audiences||Good knowledge of what news is for different audiences||Average knowledge of news for different audiences||Little knowledge of what news is for different audiences|
|2. Questions and reactions||Story addresses most of the key issues in a fair and balanced way||Story addresses many of the key issues in a fair and balanced way||Story addresses some of the key issues, though sometimes without fairness or balance||Story fails to address many of the key issues and without fairness or balance|
|Superb judgment in identifying all key sources and information Excellent judgment Writer determines key sources||Good judgment in identifying most key sources and information||Average judgment in identifying many key sources and information||Poor judgment in identifying key sources and information|
|4. The Lede||Excellent lede that gets to heart of story in clear, economical way||Good lede that gets to heart of story in clear, economical way||Lede that is excessively wordy or difficult to read and does not get as quickly to heart of story||Weak lede that is wordy, confusing and has errors|
|5. Structure||Superb use of news structure forms to maintain reader interest through a story||Good use of news structure forms to maintain reader interest||Average use of news forms; some poor paragraph placements||Weak use of news forms; disorganized and poorly planned|
|6. Attribution and Quotation||Excellent use of levels of attribution and quotation||Good but not as not varied use of levels of attribution and quotation||Average use of levels of attribution and quotation||Weak or error-filled use of levels of attribution and quotation|
Appendix 2: Grading Rubric
|Grade||A+ , A, A-||B+, B, B-||C+, C, C-||F|
|1. Evaluation of News||80, 75, 70||67, 63, 60||57, 53, 50||49 or less|
|2. Questions and reactions||80, 75, 70||67, 63, 60||57, 53, 50||49 or less|
|80, 75, 70||67, 63, 60||57, 53, 50||49 or less|
|4. The Lede||80, 75, 70||67, 63, 60||57, 53, 50||49 or less|
|5. Structure||80, 75, 70||67, 63, 60||57, 53, 50||49 or less|
|6. Attribution and Quotation|
Each of your assignments will be evaluated on at least one of the above criteria. All criteria are equally weighted, so the final score for assignments with multiple criteria will be based on an average of the scores for each relevant criterion. Scores later in the course will be weighted more heavily than those at the start, to take into account improvement in understanding and writing.