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Christopher Burnett

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JOUR 135: Reporting Public Issues

Instructor : Dr. Christopher Burnett

Office: Mendocino Hall 5026

Class Meets: 11 a.m.-11:50 a.m. Monday in Mendocino 3002, Wednesday inMendocino 3003. Off campus from noon to 3 p.m. five times.

Office Hours: Monday 10-11 a.m., Monday and Wednesday 4:15-5:15 p.m.

Office Phone: (916) 278-5311

E-mail: burnettc@csus.edu



REQUIRED TEXTS: Gerston, Larry N., and Terry Christensen
Recall: California 's Political Earthquake
Publisher: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 2004

Armstrong, Rob
Covering Politics: A Handbook for Journalists
Publisher: Blackwell, 2004.

California Newspaper Publishers Association
Paper Trails
Publisher: California Newspaper Publishers Association, 1996

Michael, Jay and Dan Walters, The Third House: Lobbyists, Money, and Power in Sacramento. Publisher: Berkeley Public Policy Press, 2002

The Associated Press, Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual Any new or recent edition



California Journal and Statenet , Roster and Government Guide Publisher: California Journal (Most Recent Edition)


Also, read The State Hornet and Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times and any other newspaper or magazine with news content , and have an e-mail account accessible from home and school (and work?) Also watch TV political news, keep an eye on political Websites and listen to public radio.

Always have on hand a reporter's notebook


Requirements for the Course

 Your grade will be based on the following assignments:


•  Profile of a state legislator. (40 percent)

This will be an investigative profile of a particular state legislator of your choice with information about his/her personal background (education/family); professional career; business relationships; real estate holdings; campaign financing; voting record; military history; court records. The profile must include a bibliography (or accuracy check) at the end with cited sources using either academic citations or, where appropriate, names, titles, phone numbers and e-mails of interview sources. The choice of legislator is due on Wednesday, February 9, and the profile is due by Wednesday, April 27. You can turn in your story early, of course. You will make a short presentation in class on your legislator during the last two weeks of the course. The final story will count for 25 percent of the grade. Other components include:

•  Document research (5 percent)

Each of you will procure public documents related to your legislative profile. You must go through the process of procuring the documents (by mail or in person) and describe that process for the class in a brief presentation. You also will provide a short written summary (it can be in a letter, memo or journal form) of the available paper to share with your colleagues. Be specific on exactly how you found the document (even the missteps!!) Your choice is due on Wednesday, February 16, and the results are due on Wednesday, April 13.

•  California Legislative Bill Story (10 percent)

This assignment has two parts. You will first choose a piece of legislation that has been introduced in the California Assembly or the California Senate. On Wednesday, February 23, you will submit a copy of the bill and a legislative analysis of the bill. On Wednesday, March 9, you will turn in a story, following Associated Press style rules and using news writing style, on the proposed legislation. This second step will involve interviewing members, legislative staff or Capitol lobbyists. You must have three "live" sources for your story.

2. Congressional story (10 percent)

This assignment is like the state legislative story, only this time you will write on a national issue pending in Congress. Republicans last fall reinforced their majority status in both houses of Congress, and major issues like the future of Social Security, tax reform, and Tsunami and Iraqi aid will dominate the headlines. Individual members, however, also will have their legislative priorities, and members will post press releases announcing other bills they are sponsoring on their individual Websites. Each class member will pick one of these less publicized bills, and write a story on it following the same guidelines as in the legislative bill story. Look at California 's congressional delegation and see what they are proposing, with a special emphasis on how it relates to their districts and the state. You must have three "live" sources for this story as well. On Wednesday, March 30, you will submit a copy of the bill and a press release/or legislative analysis of the legislation. The actual story is due on April 20.

3. Quizzes (20 percent)

During the course of the semester we will have assigned and unassigned news quizzes and quizzes on the readings. You must be in class that day to take the quiz. No makeups are permitted. Pay particular attention to the front page of the Sacramento Bee and page A-3, which contains a lot of state legislative news. I will drop the lowest quiz score during the semester, so you can perform poorly or miss one quiz and still be okay.

4. Class participation and presentations (10 percent)

Rather than relying on me to lead class discussions every day you will work in pairs to assist me. You will prepare a one-page single-spaced summary of the reading and have it ready to pass out at the beginning of class. The summaries should critique the reading and serve more as a review than just listing the findings. A signup sheet will be passed out on the second day of class.

Sources : You must always identify yourself and your publication. You will be
writing for a journalism department publication called the Capital Campus
News. It is a web-based publication. DO NOT tell your source you are just a
student doing coursework for a class because any information the source then
gives you will not be on the record and may not be used for publication.

Treat sources politely and professionally. Do not be rude, insistent or
abrasive. If you believe you may have acted inappropriately at some point,
make sure I hear about it from you first, not the source. Dress appropriate
to the source you are interviewing. Do not promise anonymity without
consulting me first. Do not agree to show a story to a source prior to

Originality : All work for this class must be original and must not have been
done for a previous class or for any publication. Please talk to me about
any story you hope to have published in a publication other than the Capital
Campus News, a new online publication that will contain stories from journalism students.



For the most part, your grade in this course will be based on your performance as a reporter. That means you must be accurate, thorough and fair in what you say and clear and compelling in how you say it. You will not be graded down for including too much information in a story, but overlooking important information will cost you.


By The Numbers

Stories will be graded according to the following values:

* 3 -- Publishable as is.

* 2 -- Needs editing.

* 1 -- Needs rewriting or is missing important information.

* 0 -- Unacceptable.


Portfolio (last 10 percent of your grade) : All the graded stories and assignments written during the semester are to be assembled into a portfolio and submitted by the beginning of class on Wednesday, December 8. Submit the portfolio in a binder or presentation folder, clearly marked with your name on it. MAKE COPIES OF ALL STORIES YOU SUBMIT FOR a GRADE! If you do not submit a complete portfolio, you will not receive a passing grade for the class. NO EXCEPTIONS. Be careful to save your work in a safe place.


Several more important points for you to remember

Deadlines . All writing assignments, including in-class writing, must be submitted by the announced deadline. No late work will be accepted. Here's why: The 6 o'clock news on TV starts at 6:00, not 6:10 or whenever the reporters are ready; similarly, in newspapers when the press is scheduled to start at 1:15 a.m., it starts at 1:15 a.m., or heads roll. Don't ever surprise your editor! It is common to find a pivotal source is not easily available to interview or the source you thought would provide essential information has not come through. E-mail /call/stop by my office right away so we can solve problems early. But also remember that simply leaving a message that you're not going to make a deadline is not what I consider adequate communication. Nor is waiting for the last minute to discover a source is on vacation. Plan your time carefully! I will also accept stories mailed or faxed prior to your deadline if you know beforehand that you cannot attend class. Stories may also be e-mailed for deadline, but each student is responsible for making sure the story actually was received. Technological failure does not absolve the writer's responsibility for meeting a deadline.

All work must be typed. No handwritten stories will be accepted (even drafts!). In-class quizzes cannot be made up . Keep copies of all assignments, and make copies of all stories that your turn in. If there is a dispute concerning a grade, you must provide copies of all assignments. All writing assignments except for the class presentation critique are to be double-spaced to provide room for me to write comments.

 Attendance: Each week will have a lecture and a laboratory. Some of the writing will be done during class but you will also be researching and interviewing at the Capitol and in the community. I will not take attendance, but you will not be able to make up assignments, so do your best to get to class. Some laboratory class periods will be used for interviews, online research, making contacts and pursuing information for multiple stories. Use this time wisely and do not mistake this for a day off or a cancelled class. Get to class on time to take all quizzes. Getting stuck in traffic is not an acceptable excuse.

Responsibility for Course Content: If you miss a class, you are responsible for the information you have missed. Please get notes and handouts from a fellow student. You might consider finding someone in the class now, before you miss a class, and agree to provide information for each other. You may call me for clarification of material.

Plagiarism : Any plagiarizing will result in a grade of F in the course. I will adhere to the department's guidelines on plagiarism.

Spelling : All journalists must know how to spell, use spell-check and a dictionary. It will be expected of you in any profession. You will often work on several drafts for each story. But each spelling error in a final story will lower your grade one letter grade. Remember, while you are working on your story in class, you will not be penalized for misspelled words. However, when you turn that story in at the end of the class period, you will be marked down for any misspellings. USE YOUR DICTIONARY! SPELLCHECK ! This includes names in the story, which would be a major inaccuracy story.

 About the Professor: I am a professional journalist and a former Washington reporter and editor. In the summer of 2000 I worked for the Sacramento Bee and spent time in the Capitol Bureau. I have a Ph.D. in political science from Colorado State University in Fort Collins , CO , and came to Sacramento last fall from Long Beach , where I was school newspaper adviser from 2001-2004. My passions, as you soon will discover, are politics, history, current events and the outdoors.  



The Weekly Schedule*



Week of January 24– Introductions, Setting the Stage. Read Recall , Parts One and Part Two, to be discussed January 31.

Week of January 31 – Finish reading Recall , Read Parts Three and Four. Text Quiz on February 2.

Week of February 7 – An Introduction to Public Records, Review Paper Trails .

Week of February 14 – The National Scene. Read Covering Politics , Section 1. Document Research Choice is due on February 16.

Week of February 21 – Read Covering Politics, Chapter 10 – Money and Manipulation, and The Third House, Chapters One and Two. Legislative Bill Summary due on Feb. 23.

Week of February 28 – Read The Third House , Chapters 3 and 4.

Week of March 7 – Read The Third House, Chapters 6 and 7. Legislative Bill Story is due on March 9.

Week of March 14 – Read Covering Politics , Section 2, and Chapter 10

Week of March 21 – SPRING BREAK

Week of March 28 – A Look at the National Media. Read Covering Politics, Chapter 11 – Polling and the Press. Congressional bill and legislative analysis/press release must be turned in on March 30.

Week of April 4 - Campaign 2004: A Look at the National Media, Campaign 2004 Review—How Did the Press Do?

Week of April 11 – Document Research Assignment Due on April 13

Week of April 18 – The Outlook for the rest of 2005-06 in the California Legislature and Congress. Congressional bill story due on April 20.

Week of April 25 – Legislative Profile Story due on April 27

Week of May 2 – Presentations on stories on May 2, 4, 9 and 11.

Week of May 9 – Portfolio containing all assignments and stories is due on Wednesday, May 11. Class Evaluation: the Role of the Press in demanding government accountability. Read Covering Politics , Section 4.

Week of May 16 – Class Review

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Text and Materials Required: The text for the course this semester is/are:

You can purchase books through the Hornet Bookstore. Check their Online Textbook Sales page at http://www.foundation.csus.edu/bookstore/textbooks/ for ordering information.

You also can purchase books for this course through Amazon (amazon.com), Barnes and Noble (bn.com) and Borders (borders.com), or any other bookstore.


last updated: 1/21/05
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