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Friday, October 05, 2007

Reporting Syllabus

Fall 2007

Class meets Mondays in Cowell 323 and Wednesdays in Cowell 225

Dr. Michael Robertson

Office: 502 University Center

Phone: 422-6250 (office); 510-836-4870 (home)


Office Hours:

Monday & Wednesday 330p-430p. If you need to see me, don't hesitate to ask for a time convenient for you.

Required Texts:

“Writing and Reporting News,” Carole Rich. Associated Press, “Stylebook”

Required Reading:

Read all assignments before the due date. Consult stylebook as needed. Regularly read at least one newspaper for local and national news. Read the Foghorn for campus news. Read at least one website that you consider a reliable news source. Be alert for stories in any of these sources that illustrate excellence – or mediocrity – in writing, reporting or news judgment. Bring examples to class for credit. Be prepared to present to the class concerning what you like or dislike.


News quizzes may be given without prior notice. Points earned will be averaged into the grade for the course. Unscheduled quizzes concerning assigned reading, style, copy format, copy editing symbols, newsroom jargon and like may be given sporadically during the term.

Your Personal Blog:

Each student is responsible for creating a personal blog on which you will post in accordance with class assignments. (See handout for additional details.) Several websites provide free space for blogging. is a popular one.

Late Assignments:

You do not need to ask my permission to turn in an out‑of‑class assignment after deadline. However, unless you have a medical excuse, you will be penalized for turning in a late story. Your mark will be lowered a letter grade for each day of lateness. For example, a "B" story turned in two days late would be reduced to a "D" grade. If you miss an assignment because of illness, it is your responsibility to present me with an acceptable medical excuse, find an alternative assignment and clear it with me.


Regular class attendance is also expected. Two unexcused absences are allowed, but in‑class work missed through absence may not be made up although it may be excused. If you miss class for any reason, it is YOUR responsibility to find out what future class assignments are. Excused assignments will not be averaged into your grade; unexcused assignments will be -- as a zero. Excessive absences will factor into the class participation portion of your grade.


Under the current policies of the Media Studies Department, a student will not get credit in the major for any course in which he or she receives a grade of less than C; that is, a grade of C-minus or lower means you must retake the course. Last semester the average grade in this class was B-minus.

Academic misconduct:

Instances of source fabrication or plagiarism will result in the most severe sanctions possible.


If you have any handicap or any other physical, emotional or personal problem that will interfere with your performance, you should discuss it with the professor by the end of the first week of the course or as soon as the problem arises. Every effort will be made to accommodate legitimate problems if they are discussed in a timely fashion. Some chronic problems may receive a sympathetic hearing but result in no adjustment to expectations for performance. A semester's-end revelation of personal problems will not improve your grade.

Learning Outcomes:

Upon completing this course, a student should be able:

1. To write clear, brief, accurate news stories using correct grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax.

2. To explain the decision‑making process for making news judgments.

3. To apply news judgment to sets of facts and synthesize those facts into effective, concise leads and coherent, logically organized news stories.

4. To know when information must be attributed to a source to avoid editorializing and how to handle attribution smoothly in a story.

5. To understand the general sources for news (observation, interview, written reports), the necessity of skepticism in dealing with these sources; to master the process of verifying information; to exhibit that understanding in your stories. You will supply me with a mailing address and/or telephone number and/or email address for each person quoted in your stories. At least once during the semester, I will send a copy of your story to those used as sources to get their judgment of your accuracy and professionalism.

6. To use basic AP style rules in the stories written.

7. To prepare copy so that it is clean and conforms to standard copy preparation rules. (For instance, always double space.)

8. To create and maintain a personal blog.


Your final grade will be determined by the average of in‑class writing, out‑of‑class writing, and final exam (70 percent); class participation (10 percent); quizzes (10 percent); blog (10 percent). Additional credit MAY be given for work done for the news side of the Foghorn, less credit for reviews and op-ed pieces.

A Student: Has either a gift for writing or works very hard at clean, clear and concise prose. Has grammar and stylistic skills resulting in copy that requires little editing. Misses no deadlines and completes all assignments. Participates in class discussions but does not dominate those discussions or divert them from the subject at hand. By the course's end, this student could perform the basic newsroom functions (see goals) for a moderate size daily newspaper with no supervision. Your basic star cub reporter with an understanding of what news is and what it takes to get it. A=100-95.

B Student: Writes basically correct English with flashes of style. May have some grammar and syntax problems, but problems can be corrected without major editing. May blow a few assignments but is basically a contributing member of the class. By the course's end, this student could perform basic newsroom functions without close supervision. Your basic bright journalism student who is still learning. Has some idea of what news is and thinks he or she knows how to get at it. B= 94-85.

C Student: Has problems with the English language that appear to be correctable with effort by both student and teacher in future courses. May have problems with accuracy and attention to detail. May have problems under deadline pressure. Able to perform basic newsroom functions if closely supervised. May think he or she deserves a B because he or she "tried." C=84-75.

D Student: Has problems with the language that may not be correctable -- ever. Has basic grammar and syntax errors still appearing in assignments at course's end. Could not perform basic newsroom functions. Does severe damage to the English language. I will give people who "try" a D. If they don't, I will fail them. D=74-65.

You may turn work in by email or by hard copy. In either case, it is your responsibility to have a second copy of the story in your possession until I return the graded original.

Week One: August 27

Objective: An introduction to the reporter’s job. Test your news nose.

Out of Class: Read Rich 1-42. Write: a 300-word "news" story about USF that would be appropriate for the Foghorn (1). Remember: I want facts from sources, not your opinions. The story is due in class Wednesday. For the following Wednesday, write the first 50 words of a news story based on the information given in Exercise 1 and do Exercise 5 in Rich, pages 43-45.

Week Two: September 3 (No Monday class)

Objective: Writing leads.

In Class: Write leads for practice and a grade.

Out of Class: Read Rich pages 46-61, 152-185. In your favorite news sources, find three good leads. For Wednesday, write a brief explanation of why you like those leads. Bring to class and turn in. For Monday, September 10, do Exercises 8 and 12 in Rich, pages 60-61.

Week Three: September 10

Objective: Listening and note-taking.

In Class: Press conference; write story (2).

Out of Class: Read Rich, pages 121-147. For Wednesday, do Exercises 1 and 2, Rich, pages 147-148. Check out speeches that will be given on campus next week and no later than Friday email me your recommendations about which the class should attend.

Friday, September 14, is Census Date, the last day to drop classes with a refund.

Week Four: September 17

Objectives: Making it right, verification

Style, attribution, finding facts

In Class: Exercises

Out of Class: Read Rich 107-119, 363-377. Speech story. Do a background paragraph concerning the speaker and the topic for the speech story (3) and turn it in before we cover the speech. You will be responsible for arranging to be free to cover that speech. It probably will be an evening assignment due the next morning.

Week Five: September 24

Objectives: Observation and note-taking for the speech story. Correct attribution.

In class: Writing for a grade (4) from materials I will give you.

Out of class: Rich 309-322.

Week Six: October 1

Objectives: Short personality profile. You will interview someone on this campus about his or her “war” experiences. No relatives or hometown friends.

In Class: Practicing interviewing techniques. How to write about people. Proposals for the “war” profile are due Wednesday, accompanied by a rationale explaining why Foghorn readers would be interested in this person, plus the first five questions you will ask her/him.

Out of Class: Read Rich 253-273. Arrange an interview time with your profile subject.

Week Seven: October 8

Objective: Midterm Evaluation

Conferences with teacher.

Out of class: Profiles (5) due by 5 p.m. October 10.

Week Eight: October 15

Objective: Cover meeting, probably student senate.

In Class: Review agenda of assigned meeting

Out of Class: Cover meeting. The story (6) will be due 24 hours later.

Nine: October 22

Objectives: Creating the project memo. Organizing the multiple-source story. Some tips on investigative reporting.

In Class: Project organization and time management. Idea development. Telling a story.

Out of Class: Rich 507-521. Project memo due in class October 24.

Week Ten: October 29

Objectives: Police beat stories. Discuss progress on project

In Class: How to cover the police beat.

Out of Class: Read Rich 401-427 and begin interviews for project

story. Do a USF crime story (7).

Week Eleven: November 5

Objectives: Work on multiple-source story; the art of the feature story

In Class: Consult on multiple-source story; practice feature techniques.

Out of Class: Work on multiple-source story.

Week Twelve: November 12

Objective: Finish multiple-source story

In Class: Consult on multiple source stories.

Out of Class: Multiple-source story (7) 1500-2000 words in length due at end of class November 19.

Week Thirteen: November 19

Objectives: Beats. Between editor and reporter

In Class: You will do a “beat” story based on the topic of your multiple-source story. The art of being edited.

Out of Class: Begin work on your first beat story (8), which is due November 28.

Week Fourteen: November 26

Objectives: Newsroom survival. Working your beat.

In Class: How to get through the first six months. Office

politics. Either write a story (9) in class from assigned materials or out of class from in-class speaker.

Out of Class: Read Rich 485-500.

Week Fifteen: December 3

Objectives: Final Evaluation

There will be a final exam.

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