Reporting and Writing
JMSC6001, Fall 2011_____________________________________________________
Saturday class: 2 p.m. to 4:50 p.m., Digital Media Lab, Eliot Hall
Instructor: Alex Lo
Course blog site: http://courses.jmsc.hku.hk/jmsc6001fall2011d/
Office hours: By appointment
Welcome to Reporting and Writing, a core course for Master of Journalism students. It is a core course because all 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 readers, viewers or visitors will rest on the quality of its reporting and writing. The more skilled you are at reporting and writing, the better stories you can tell in any medium. Clear writing will carry you forward in life, regardless of what jobs you may have.
The first major goal of this course is to develop your reporting instincts, knowledge and skills so that you can be employed by a professional news organization and confidently undertake a story assignment that it might give a reporter on its “general assignment” desk – that is, you can assess the story’s potential news value, determine some of the key questions to ask and reactions to get from those persons and organizations involved, and know where to go to begin getting the material you need to produce a 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, clearly, fairly and quickly communicates the information in traditional journalistic news story forms.
Intended Learning Outcomes
By the end of the course, you will be able to:
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 “leads,” 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 several other topics, including the differences between the story form known as “hard news” or “spot news” – the focus of this course – and other journalistic story forms.
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 and grow more advanced until the six skill sets listed above are covered. The skill sets will be previewed before they are taught and your progress toward achieving them will be evaluated as they are taught.
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 in the first class 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 a “budget” 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 budget will be evaluated according to its level of conformance with the first three skill sets listed above.
Please see Appendix 1, Course Grade Descriptors, to see how your work translates into standards and grades.
Please see Appendix 2, Grading Rubric, to see how grades will be recorded throughout the term.
Texts and Required and Recommended Readings
The Universal Journalist, by David Randall (required for all students; available at the university bookstore).
You Can Write Better English, by Barry Kalb (required for native Chinese-language speakers; optional for other non-native English-language speakers; available at the JMSC at a discount)
The Economist Style Guide, by John Grimond (recommended to all; available online at http://www.economist.com/research/StyleGuide/).
A few words about the two 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 lectures and discussions in the early weeks of our class, and will be noted in postings on our class website. The Kalb text (newly published by the lecturer for the Monday class of this course) deals in particular with the mistakes that native Chinese speakers make when writing in English. The rules it discusses, however, are valid for anyone. It should be read early in the course, and consulted when necessary.
For others, The Economist’s style guide is not really a text, but simply a good place to go if you have questions about how to handle style, grammar and punctuation issues.
Journalists are avid consumers of news, and for this class particularly, we expect you to come to class ready to talk about major events in the world, in Asia and in Hong Kong. For sources of news, you have many choices. Two wire services – The Associated Press at http://www.ap.org and Reuters at http://www.reuters.com – offer worldwide coverage. You also can find worldwide coverage in the pages of the Guardian at http://www.guardian.co.uk and International Herald-Tribune at http://www.iht.com. Good television alternatives include the BBC at news.bbc.co.uk and CNN at http://edition.cnn.com. For magazines, The Economist at http://www.economist.com and Time at http://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 the HKU Library. An alternative to the Post in Hong Kong is The Standard at http://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 negatively affect your grade.
As noted earlier, come to class prepared to discuss the news. In the case of handouts from the instructor, you must by the following class be prepared to discuss them. On occasion, you may be asked to lead the discussions.
Assignments submitted by hard copy or digitally must appear professional. That means double-spaced, with standard margins and room left at top of the first page for comments. File names for assignments will be announced in advance. All assignments must have your name at the top left-hand corner of the first page, and the name of the file (known in journalistic terms as the “slug”) under that. When you send e-mails, in the “subject” line, put your name and the story slug.
Regularly check email and/or the course Web site so that you do not miss times when plans discussed in class change due to reporting opportunities that arise due to breaking news events.
Your work must be fully your own. Any plagiarism or fabrication of quotes, facts or events will have immediate and severe consequences.
We expect everyone to be open-minded, inquisitive, cooperative and respectful of one another’s ideas and comments.
Alex Lo is an editor and editorial writer for The South China Morning Post. To know more, go to http://courses.jmsc.hku.hk/6001alexlo/
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) that we have planned as well as how you will develop the skills you seek and how we will assess whether you are achieving your goals.
|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)||n/a||1,2,3,4,5,6|
|Sept. 3||News values and elements; composing and writing leads to news stories||Chaps. 1, 2, 3 & 14 in The Universal Journalist (also see class Web site)||News discussions; lead-writing exercises||4|
|Sept. 10||The art of reporting; composing and writing leads to news stories||Chaps. 4, 5, The Universal Journalist (also see class Web site)||News discussions; lead-writing reviews and exercises||4|
|Sept. 17||Accuracy and clarity; writing news story from provided facts||Chaps. 11, 13, The Universal Journalist (also see class Web site)||News discussions, story-writing reviews/exercises||4,5|
|Sept. 24||Fairness and balance; writing news story from provided facts||See class Web site for readings||News discussions, story-writing reviews/exercises||4, 5|
|Oct. 8||Attribution, quotation and levels of sources; writing news story from campus or community event. 1st graded exercise||Chaps. 6, 7, 16, The Universal Journalist (also see class Web site)||News discussions, story-writing reviews/exercises||4,5|
|Oct. 15||News story from community event. 2nd graded exercise||See class Web site for readings||News discussions, story-writing reviews/exercises||1,2,3,4, 5, 6|
|Oct. 22||READING WEEK: NO CLASSES|
|Oct. 29||News story from community event. 3rd graded exercise; final project ideas due||See class Web site for readings||News discussions, story-writing reviews/exercises||1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6|
|Nov. 5||Digital journalism presentation, discussion; 4th graded exercise||See class Web site for readings||News discussions, story-writing reviews/exercises||1,2,3,4, 5, 6|
|Nov. 12||Digital journalism ; review newsroom budgets||See class Web site for readings||Using digital tools for reporters||1,2,3,4, 5, 6|
|Nov. 19||Review newsroom budgets; discuss final project||See class Web site for readings||News discussions, story-writing reviews||1,2,3, 4, 5, 6|
|Nov. 26||Student presentation of newsroom budgets||See class Web site for readings||Review and editing of class work in preparation for final assignment||1,2,3|
|Nov. 26 cont.||Student presentation of newsroom budgets||See class Web site for readings||Research and discussion of ideas for final class assignment||1,2,3|
|Dec. 3 FINALCLASS||Review of semester course goals; career and job discussions||Chap. 19, The Universal Journalist (also see class Web site)||Final review of coursework and materials||n/a|
|Dec. 5||Final reporting and writing project is due||See class Web site for readings||Submit to instructor by email by noon this date||1,2,3,4, 5, 6|
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 what news is 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|
|3. Sourcesand information||Superb judgment in identifying all key sources and information||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 Lead||Excellent top that gets to heart of story in clear, economical way||Good top that gets to heart of story in clear, economical way||Average top that is wordy and does not get as quickly to heart of story||Weak top that is wordy, confusing and has errors|
|5. Structure||Superb use of news structure forms to maintain reader interest||Good use of news structure forms to maintain reader interest||Average use of news forms; some poor paragraph placement||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 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|
|3. Sourcesand information||80, 75, 70||67, 63, 60||57, 53, 50||49 or less|
|4. The Lead||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||80, 75, 70||67, 63, 60||57, 53, 50||49 or less|
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.