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Dr. Christopher Burnett

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JOUR30: Basic News Reporting Syllabus

Instructor : Dr. Christopher Burnett

Office: Mendocino Hall 5026

Class Meets: Wednesday, 8-11 a.m. in Mendocino 3003

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: 1. Reporting for the Print Media , by Fred Fedler. Eighth Edition

2. The Associated Press , Associated Press Stylebook & Libel Manual

Also, read The State Hornet and Sacramento Bee and any other newspaper or magazine with news content, and have an e-mail account accessible from home and school (and work?)

A reporter’s notebook


Specific Course Objectives

1. The student will be able to utilize the AP Stylebook and apply correct style, spelling and language in news writing and style exercises.


2. The student will be able to identify the 5 Ws of a news story and apply them in journalistic form to write short news stories.


3. The student will be able to recall the general organization of a newspaper and demonstrate, through writing, the ability to recognize generally accepted news values.


4. Given a set of facts about an incident, the student will be able to write a short news stories with accuracy, clarity and completeness.


5. The student will be able to define attribution, verification and balance and use them as guidelines in writing short news stories.


6. The student will be able to evaluate a series of facts in an incident, identify the elements of the lead and write a concise summary lead.


7. The student will be able to recognize the differences between revision and rewriting of a story and a follow-up story and utilize those elements to write such stories.


8. The student will be introduced to the basics of libel and will be able to recall and define those basics.


9. The student will be introduced to the mechanics and importance of quotations and apply those mechanics in written exercises.


10. The student will develop an awareness of current events as reported in local media and demonstrate that awareness through current events quizzes and discussion.


11. Given a news tip or partial facts about an incident, the student will be able to apply the basic techniques of news gathering to collect and verify the facts necessary to write a news story on that incident within an assigned deadline.


12. The student will be able to attend a speech, meeting or event on campus and write a publishable story within a set deadline for the campus or other newspaper.




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.


Your final grade will be determined on the following basis:

  • Quizzes 20%
  • Stories, both in class and out 30%
  • Portfolio 10%
  • Midterm Exam 10%
  • Capstone story. 20%
  • Group project 10%


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 : All the graded stories written during the semester are to be assembled into a portfolio and submitted by the beginning of class on May 9. The portfolio is to have a Table of Contents that lists the stories and the grades assigned to them. Submit the portfolio in a binder or presentation folder, clearly marked with your name, class and section. The portfolio must include each graded story, and a printed copy of the story in its published form (if published) for possible extra credit. Include printed copies of your group project. Include all tests and quizzes at the end of the portfolio. You must keep your portfolio updated on a weekly basis, ready for review on demand. 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 and exercises 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 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 around campus as you learn reporting. The class will be a working newsroom and it is your responsibility to get to class. 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. Last minute assignments may be given when an applicable event coincides with the class period (for instance, attending and writing about a public meeting, a speech, or an event in the Quad) so get to class on time.


Responsibility for Course Content: If you miss a class, you are responsible for the information you have missed. Please get lecture 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.


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.



Capstone Story: While you will be writing many short news stories during the semester, you will write one longer news story based on interviewing appropriate sources, acquiring appropriate data and other information and writing a 800 – 1,000 word story. You must generate your own story idea and have it approved by October 22. The story is due November 22. All interviews and material must be acquired for publication and on the record. You must state that you intend to submit it to a publication. We will discuss the specifics of being on the record in class.


Group Project: Each group will be responsible for compiling a daily news digest from reputable online news sources. It will be in the format found at www.rtumble.com. Each story you select must have an appropriate headline, summary or lead sentence and direct link to the story. The news must be current and of interest to the university community. You must only link to credible sources -- ones you are sure are non-partisan, fact-checked and have a reputation for accuracy. The digest should include variety of information from a variety of sources, including but not limited to breaking news, politics, science, sports, and entertainment. An occasional editorial or political cartoon may also be included. Each digest should include a minimum of 5 items and a maximum of 10 items. The news judgment of your group’s selection will be based on the news values introduced in class and in your textbook. The digest will be circulated to the class by e-mail by 9 a.m. on each assigned day. Evaluation of the group projects will include news judgment, diversity of material, credibility, timeliness, summary and meeting your deadline. Each group member should print a copy of each digest to include in the final portfolio.


Each group will include four members and be assigned a day of the week for the semester. No group reports will be due during spring break or during the last two weeks of the semester.


Competency Exam: You will write a news story based on facts given to you in class a couple of weeks before the end of the semeser. In order to pass the course, you must get a passing grade on the final story to establish your competency on the basics on writing a news story. While the story will not be complicated, you must establish your ability to write a short news story in appropriate journalistic format, with a summary news lead, good story organization, appropriate quotes and punctuation, and AP style. You will be able to use your AP Stylebook during the exam. The story must be completed and turned in within the class period.


About the Professor: I am a professional journalist and a former Washington reporter and editor. However, I’ve also worked in the public relations industry. I have a Ph.D. in political science from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO, and came to Sacramento 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*


 January 26 – Introduction to Course, Chapters 1, 2 and 3

February 2 – Chapter 5: Selecting and Reporting the News

February 9 – Chapter 10: Interviews

February 16 -- Chapter 6: Basic News Leads

February 23 – Chapter 7: Alternative Leads

March 2 – Chapter 8: The Body of a News Story

March 9 -- Chapter 9: Quotations and Attribution

March 16 – Midterm Examination

March 23- SPRING BREAK WEEK. No Class.

March 30 – Chapter 11: Writing Obituaries

April 6 - Chapter 12: Speeches and Meetings, and Chapter 13: Specialized Types of News Stories

April 13 – Chapter 14: Feature Stories

April 20 – Chapter 19: News Media and PR Practitioners

April 27 – Chapter 16: Understanding and Using the Internet, and Chapter 18: Writing for Broadcast

May 4 – Chapter 20: Communications Law

May 11– Portfolio due on May 11. Chapter 21: Ethics. Chapter 22: Careers in Journalism

Week of May 16 – Class review

Text and Materials

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

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

Other possible text sources include: amazon.com, Barnes and Noble (bn.com) and Borders (borders.com)


last updated: 1/21/2005
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