COMS 104: News Writing, with Bob Stepno
office hours: 3:30-4:30 p.m. M-T-W-Th, or by appointment
Section -20450- COMS 104-02
11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. TTh, Whitt Hall 222
Section -20436- COMS 104-01
2-3:15p.m. TTh, Young Hall 123
Class Notes: Assignment reminders will be added here after class. Be sure to check here -- especially if you miss class or don't take great notes. The former top of this page (overview) has moved.)
FINAL EXAM: Usual room, new time...
Section02 (11 a.m. class) exam at 10:15 Thurs. May 9, Whitt 222;
Section01 (2 p.m. class) exam at 2:45 Tues. May 7, Young 123.
The "exam" will consist of writing a story based on information provided in class, comparable to the "Gartner" or "fire" stories. BRING YOUR AP STYLEBOOK.
Check your exam schedule for all classes, and notify your professors if you have three or more exams on the same day. There may be limited opportunities to take the 104 "exam" with the other section, but seating is limited. I'll take a poll in class to see whether the "I want to leave town before Thursday" and "I want more time to prepare" requests balance each other out.
- Tuesday: Turn in fire stories. Writing for the Web and for broadcast (exercise in class), preview of other courses. Notes on revising fire stories.
- Thursday: Public Relations and the press (discussion and Web examples in class). Exam preview & prep.
- Thursday in-class: Media law and ethics discussion, using the textbook's online quizzes and the SPJ Code of Ethics as discussion starters. In-class: Add the SPJ code above and these related organizations to your blog: OpenGovVA.org, Student Press Law Center, Virginia FoIA and Virginia SPJ. Whether you plan to be a professional journalist or just report on a blog as a "citizen journalist," there's very useful information about access to documents, rules about privacy, recording legally and much more at the Digital Media Law Project, and its related Online Media Legal Network. (Yes, copying all of these links to your blog is legal. Copying my sentences is plagiarism, so put your link-list in your own words.)
- Reading assignments: Read chapter 7 by Thursday and do the self-graded quizzes on pages 145 and 156 (answers are in the back of the book; no homework to turn in); read chapters 8 and 9 for next Tuesday, and chapter 10 by the last class.
- What WAS the news from Quadfest? (Not much, apparently.)
- Survey for a local newspaper: Tartan Interest page
- Textbook website problems: The McGrawHill website workbook for our book has been offline for a few days. I posted a backup copy of the last assignment on Desire2Learn. Luckily, the website for the previous edition of the book is working, so backup copies of assignments are there: snow-accident story, voting machine hearing.
- We'll start this fire story on Tuesday, add more information in response to your questions, and finish it for next Tuesday: fire story. Why so slow for such a short story? Because you have revisions and a bunch of reading to do, too. Here's the extra information, based on question from two classrooms full of reporters.
- The Pulitzer Prizes were awarded Monday. Read some of the best journalism of 2012.
- Assignment for Thursday and Tuesday: Rough draft for Thursday and
final draft for Tuesday based on Ex.
5.9-A in the
workbook: Voting machine protest. (The first of two assignment sheets on that page.) See raginggrannies.com for pictures to
use in writing a better description of the protestors than the assignment sheet's vaguely negative phrase, "wildly
dressed." Also see the AP Stylebook discussion of the word "elderly."
- If you were in class Thursday, you learned more and will have a better story. You can get some of the extra information online.
- Revisit your first nice spring day blog post and check your grammar and spelling! When you write in a public forum, such as your blog, be sure to present yourself at your best. The assignment was to write full sentences, not a list of disconnected phrases. Reading over your lists, I found some terrific examples of sunny spring scenes worth saving for a dark and rainy day, but I also saw grammar and spelling errors that left me cold.
Week 11: Beyond Comm Week
- Go to your class blog and write 10 descriptive sentences about today's weather and people's reaction to it.
- Before Thursday: Visit http://blueridgemuse.com and get to know Doug Thompson. Afterward, you can try http://capitolhillblue.com and see what he's been saying there, or search http://roanoke.com for his name to find out what they've been saying about him over the past six months.
- This week you should post stories from Communication Week events and other live news stories.
- If the snow kept you from one event and classes kept you from others, you can substitute any other public-event story.
- For emergency use or general edification, here is A very low quality audio recording from the week's last panel. Sorry for the delay posting it; I wanted to make sure the panelists agreed with my recording it and making it available. (Common courtesy to ask first, but here is relevant Virginia Law about recording.)
Week 10: Communication Week
- No classes April 1-4; instead, meet with the professor to review your work so far. Find your name on the appointment calendar PDF file.
- Cover at least one Communication Week event as a story -- but attend as many as you can -- learn, meet folks, have fun!
- Plan to cover at least one more event -- Comm Week or otherwise -- before the end of April. See story tips and a calendar on this page.
- Weekend assignment is on D2L -- to write a story about a spring snowstorm and the traffic accidents it caused. Reporting notes are on D2L and in the e-workbook.
Week 9: Still spring, snow or not!
- The weekend's assignment continues: A preview story about
a (fictitious) coming event -- story due Tuesday, and a report on the
event (a speech) -- story due Thursday. The speech is long, so don't leave
it until Wednesday unless you want a real "deadline" experience.
Full assignment sheet: Covering a
visiting journalist. (pdf)
- Note: The Gartner speech transcript is on page 300 of your textbook's latest edition. An early version of the assignment sheet used the previous edition page number.
- Communication Week assignments and schedule
- In class on Thursday, make an appointment to review your stories with the professor.
- What other coverable news events are coming up? Radford has many bulletin boards, email alerts and Web calendars. I'll copy things I hear about to my calendar, but PLEASE tell me if you hear of other events your classmates might want to know about!
Week 8: Welcome back from spring break!
Here's some of what we'll be doing in class and for homework, using chapters 4 and 5 of the textbook:
- Review skills for reporting (Ch.4): Taking notes, interviewing, quoting, attributing.
- Do exercises 1, 2 & 3 on page 92. (Check your own answers; class discussion on Mar. 21 & 25. Nothing to turn in.)
- UPDATE: I'll give back comments on the Charlie Rose stories next week; you will have at least a week after you get my comments to revise them for a final grade.
- This weekend's assignment will be to write a preview story about a (fictitious) coming event -- story due Tuesday, and a report on the event (a speech) -- story due Thursday. The speech is long, so don't leave it until Wednesday unless you want a real "deadline" experience. Full assignment sheet: Covering a visiting journalist. (pdf)
- Locate coming-event calendars and plan to cover live events, including Communication Week.
Week 7: Can't believe it's March already
- Using the Charlie Rose Show as a source of interview examples...
- write a story (assignment sheet) over spring break.
- Good news: Interview
video-players on the website that had problems before break were fixed by
- These are among the ones that worked before the break: Sandra Day O'Connor, Radiolab's hosts, Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg, Lena Dunham, Dustin Hoffman, David Chase, David Letterman, Bradley Cooper, Piers Morgan, Tariq Ramadan, Michelle Rhee, Tim Burton.
- These are some that weren't working at the last class, but by March 17 they played normally: Gloria Steinem, Steven Brill, Quentin Tarentino.
Sixth week: Feb. 24-30
- Homework due Tuesday, Feb.26: Edit three stories for AP style and grammar. (Post in dropbox to be created on D2L)
- As mentioned in class, the midterm editing test will be split between Thursday and next Tuesday because of weather-related absences on Feb. 26 when we went over the three stories above. Note that we found more than 50 style, grammar or punctuation errors. To prepare for the tests, review those stories, the online AP Stylebook exercises, and the Test Yourself grammar, punctuation and style questions at the end of Harrower's Chapter 3 (p.65). See me during office hours or make a Wednesday, Friday or Monday appointment if you missed Tuesday's class.
Fifth week: Feb. 17-23
- AP Stylebook news reading exercise due in your blog (see assignment sheet)
- Using AP Stylebook in class, so bring it this week
- Answer some of those frequently asked grammar questions.
- In-class Feb. 19: Writing a few leads of your own.
- More about style guides for comparison in class: Reuters, Yahoo and many organizations' PR offices have their own.
- In-class preview Lead Lab at Poynter NewsU
Fourth week: Feb. 10-16
- AP Stylebook exercise due in Desire2Learn (see assignment sheet there)
- Using AP Stylebook in class, so bring it this week and next. (Doing in-class selections from Exercises 3-5.1 through 3-5.10 and more.)
- Analyzing and fixing news leads that have problems.
Third week: Feb. 3-9
More discussion of "newsworthiness" or "news values," along with the stories you've read since the last class, my email about internships, and the Markham Nolan video below.
In class Tuesday: Add links to your favorite stories as a new post on your WordPress blog (and while you're there, make sure you remembered to save the first assignment, and look over both items for errors with the help of the people sitting next to you).
Possible quiz on Chapter 2's terminology: General assignment reporters, beat reporters, copy desk, lead, quote, attribution, liftout quote, etc.
Start Chapter 3 so we can get writing: Those "five W's," the inverted pyramid story, and the basic news lead.
After we talk about the history and traditions of journalism, we'll look at how it is changing today. Your own What I Read reports will be part of the discussion. So will this short talk by Markham Nolan on the impact of the Web, the average citizen's "documentary urge," and tools like Twitter, Instagram, Google Maps, Spokeo and Wolfram Alpha.
(If you have a good level of journalistic curiosity, you have already started asking yourself, Who is Markham Nolan? Maybe you googled the answer before you noticed that link.)
- Read the first two chapters of the textbook. They are about journalism, its purpose, importance, history, people and folklore. If you are waiting for your copy, read the PDF files of the first two chapters from the second edition.
- For local news updates, sign up with Twitter and follow the twitter.com/#!/bobstep/nrvj news source list.
- For news tips, internships and gossip, follow my personal twitter feed, twitter.com/bobstep (that's me).
- A weblog assignment or news reading assignment will be due on most Tuesdays until we start in on longer writing assignments.
- Grammar quizzes: As mentioned in class and in the syllabus, start taking the grammar quizzes
at the textbook website as soon as possible. Use Grammarly and other tools to help.
- There are 10 quizzes, one on the menu for each chapter: Race ahead and do ALL 10 within the first three or four weeks of class. They are self-graded. You can take them over and over and get everything right. But don't just get them right -- try to recognize categories of problems, such as subject-verb agreement, formation of possessives, etc.
- Do NOT have the website send the results of each test to the professor. Instead, send them to yourself -- and use a grammar textbook or grammar website (there are many) to figure out why the "wrong" answers were wrong.
- After you have gone through this process with quizzes 1-5, write a memo to the instructor summarizing the problems you had. After the last five, write another memo. (There will be a Desire2Learn dropbox to turn in the memos at least a week before the midterm editing test.)
- If you can't figure out why a particular question is wrong, ask about it in class or during my office hours -- or take the whole quiz to the Learning Assistance Resource Center for review.
Overview (formerly at the top of the page)
- This is the main webpage for the course. We also will use a Desire2Learn page as a dropbox to submit writing assignments.
- Our main text is Tim Harrower's Inside Reporting, 3rd edition.
- Bookmark its workbook pages online, including quizzes on chapter contents and grammar. Do the chapter quizzes early and often -- as a preview or review of each reading assignment. There will be a more formal assignment involving the grammar quizzes.
- You also need the AP Stylebook (2010 or later); bookmark its Ask the Editor FAQ and Recent Questions.
- And we will be experimenting with self-published WordPress sites as a way to share "what we've read" links to stories.
Follow this required texts link to see my bookmark entries for those books and for some (optional) free online or downloadable texts. Also browse my bookmarks on the left whenever you're looking for information overload.
News reading is also required: Read the best and most interesting news writing you can find. Here's a start: The New York Times, The Roanoke Times, The Virginian-Pilot, The Washington Post, and the Pulitzer Prize archives.
Get to know the culture: Visit journalism groups and publications, starting with the Society of Professional Journalists (spj.org), Investigative Reporters & Editors (ire.org), Radio & TV Digital News Association (rtdna.org), Online News Association (journalists.org), Columbia Journalism Review (cjr.org), American Journalism Review (ajr.org), and the resources at the The Poynter Institute.