July 2009 Archives

Key Concept:


A filtering process, which determines which of the countless possible stories actually get published. Useful gate-keeping ensures that fluffy and exciting stories that are easy to write don't crowd out the dry but important stories that require extensive research.

Extreme gatekeepers are censors, preventing the publication of information that could be unflattering to powerful people (such as the owners of a news organization, or the dominant political party).  For instance, in order to keep the U.S. leadership from looking weak during the build-up to World War II, reporters kept silent about the fact that FDR used a wheelchair.

In a more moderate form, gate-keepers are the editors who keep the news media from choking on stories about lost puppies, yo-yo tournaments, and celebrity sex scandals; who agree not to publish the names of certain crime victims (including children and the targets of sexual assault), even though those names may be available in public documents; and who ensure that someone covers the routine stories about zoning law changes and city council meetings, whether politicians who campaigned on certain problems actually kept them, etc.
Feel free to post your questions here, or on any other page on the site.

Posting a comment here will automatically generate an e-mail, so you don't need to e-mail me to tell me that you left a comment.

If you'd like to talk in person, the syllabus has information on my office hours.

Note on Grading Scale

The whole course is based on 1000 points.

  • Articles (350 pts) -- Four publication-ready news articles, completed in several integrated stages.
  • Exercises (200 pts) -- Your intermediate application of skills we are addressing in class. An exercise might involve several short assignments, a group activity, or a whole article.
  • Reflective Portfolios (200 pts) -- Two (sorry -- the calendar on the outline page is correct, it's four) organized collections of your best reflective work, responding to assigned readings and peer work. (More details will come as the assignment approaches.
  • Polls & Quizzes (150 pts) -- Polls are informal feedback opportunities, both in-class and online, so that you and I can see what you're learning and where you need extra help. Participation matters more than "the right answer."  Quizzes are formal assessment activities that ask you to perform a skill you have already been taught.  I might give either type of question at any time, during any class.
  • Exams (100 pts) -- A midterm and final will be given during regular class time. (Our final exam slot is for final presentations.)
I report all grades according to the standard four-point academic scale. Thus, for an assignment worth 20 points, if you get a 15, that translates to a 3.0 out of 4, or a B.
Key Concept:


Plagiarism is an academic or professional misrepresentation, in which a writer takes credit for someone else's ideas.

Avoid plagiarism by 
  • submitting your own original work
  • giving proper credit to other people whose words and/or ideas appear in your work
  • recognizing that direct quotation (with citation) and paraphrase (with citation) are both acceptable ways to use outside material.
Avoid the panic that makes cheating look so attractive by
  • starting early (plan 2-3 hours of homework for each hour of class)
  • keeping on track (with brainstorming, drafting, workshop, and revision assignments)
  • seeking out help (from the professor, Writing Center, tutors)

Disability Statement

If you have a disability that requires instructor consideration please contact the Director of Disability Services at 724-838-4295.  It is recommended that this be accomplished by the second week of class.  If you need accommodations for successful participation in class activities prior to your appointment at the Disability Services Office, you should offer information in writing that includes suggestions for assistance in participating in and completing class assignments.  It is not necessary to disclose the nature of your disability.

Plagiarism and Academic Misconduct

Seton Hill University expects that all its students will practice academic honesty and ethical conduct. The University regards plagiarism, cheating on examinations, falsification of papers, non-sanctioned collaboration, and misuse of library material, computer material, or any other material, published or unpublished, as violations of academic honesty. Violators of the code may expect disciplinary sanctions, which are discussed in the Seton Hill University Catalog, page 30, Code of Academic Conduct.
Any unreferenced use of the written or spoken material of another, or of previously submitted work of the student's own, constitutes plagiarism.
Paraphrasing the thoughts or written work of another without reference is also plagiarism. Helpful information is available at the following web site: Plagiarism: What It Is and How to Recognize and Avoid It. Any plagiarism on a draft will result in a zero as the final grade on that assignment. Any plagiarism or cheating on an informal essay, paragraph, or grammar exercise will also result in a zero.

See also "Plagiarism (and Academic Integrity)."

Please acquire your own individual copies of the assigned texts, and bring a copy to class on the day the discussion is scheduled.

Some assigned texts are available online. You may print these out, or bring an electronic version on a laptop or PDA.

  • Cappon, The Associated Press Guide to News Writing 0028637550
  • Clark and Scanlan, America's Best Newspaper Writing 2nd ed. 0312443676
  • Goldstein, Associated Press Stylebook 0465012620
    (The new edition came out in June 2009; if you have already purchased an older one for a previous class, you may continue to use it.)
  • ResponseCard XR "Clickers" - hand-held device for offering in-class feedback and answering quiz questions. REQUIRED. (Each student must have an individual device, but you may use the same device in different classes.)

Optional Purchase

Haiman, Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists B0006RIMW0

Purchasing a printed copy is optional; the full text is available for free from the publisher: http://www.freedomforum.org/publications/diversity/bestpractices/bestpractices.pdf

Since we are learning media skills in a 21st-century university, this course expects you to use the internet regularly. Just as students in generations past learned to carry an extra inkhorn and spare lamp wicks, there are certain common-sense strategies that will help you do the necessary work.

Print out a copy of the course syllabus, and print out online readings in advance, so that you can work on the readings if the internet happens to be down. Get in the habit of e-mailing drafts to yourself, so that you can retrieve them from your archives if you lose your thumb drive.

Unless the homework assignment specifically mentions a printout, you should assume that I don't want a hard copy, though I may ask you to bring printouts for you to trade with your peers during class. Most exercises will be submitted via Google Docs, and most drafts and revisions will be submitted via Turnitin.com.  We will also use GriffinGate and blogs.setonhill.edu.  We will spend some class time familiarizing ourselves with the various tools, and I am happy to meet with you during my office hours if you'd like additional help.

Getting Credit for Late Work

By default, late assignments automatically lose one letter grade if they are not submitted on time, and another letter grade for each additional day late (counting weekends as one day). This means that no assignment will earn any credit if it is more than four days late, unless there are extenuating circumstances.

If you are asking that I waive a late penalty, e-mail me a copy of your completed Absence Form (after I have already seen and signed the printed copy), with a subject line that follows this pattern: "Smith EL227 Ex 1-2 Absence Form".  Then, submit your late work according to the assignment instructions.

Deadlines for the submission of turnitin.com assignments are typically 15 minutes before class starts. I do this simply to discourage you from being late to class because you are still working on your homework. It also permits me to scan the assignments briefly before class begins. If your online submission is late by a few minutes, but you are still on time to class, your paper won't count as late.

Please note that late submissions always go to the bottom of my to-do list. If you are concerned about not getting a paper back soon enough to help you complete the next step in a multi-stage assignment, please make an appointment and I will go over it with you orally.

Special Cases

Some assignments are designed to get you ready for a particular day's class, or to help you practice important skills -- like meeting deadlines.  In-class quizzes (taken with the hand-held "clicker" response cards) and in-class peer review and copy editing activities are not easily replaceable. In such cases, I reserve the right to assign a make-up assignment for half credit, or to accept no make-up work and report a zero.

RRRR Items: These time-sensitive assignments (I will eventually introduce RRRR assignments... see the Help page) earn no credit if they are late. You should still complete any items you missed in order to get full credit for your class portfolio.

Make-up/Extra Credit Assignments: I do not have a policy of inventing make-up or extra-credit assignments to enable you to pull your grade up in the last few weeks of the term. At any time, however, you may demonstrate your willingness to work hard for your grade by doing more than the required amount of work on your weblog. (Call my attention to this extra work when you submit your weblog portfolio.)

Students are expected to contribute actively to a positive classroom environment, both in person and online.

Absences, late arrivals and early departures, inappropriate use of telephones or headphones, lack of preparation, and inattentiveness will affect your ability to contribute to a positive classroom environment. Those who participate above and beyond the call of duty will receive a bonus. If your final grade falls near a borderline, I will take your participation into account when I decide whether to round up or down.

Students who dislike public speaking may wish to invest more effort in their online writing, and vice-versa.

Students are expected to attend every class (according to the Seton Hill University Catalog). Repeated late arrivals and early departures will begin to count as absences.

A student's final grade may be lowered by the proportion of unexcused absences. Thus, a student with a final grade of 75% with a record of 10% unexcused absences would get a final grade that is 90% of 75% (that is, 67.5%). (If you have only a few absences and your class participation is good, I will probably waive the penalty.)

An excused absence does not automatically grant an extension for any material covered, or any work collected or assigned.

If you stay up all night in order to complete a major assignment, and you skip class on the day it is due, I will count the assignment an extra day late. (You might as well go to bed without finishing the paper, come to class well-rested so you won't fall farther behind, and then turn in the paper the next morning.)

What to Do When You Must Miss a Class

Contact me directly, after you have done the following:

  • Consult this website to find out what is scheduled on the date(s) affected by your absence.
  • Consult a classmate and arrange to get notes on what happens during class, extra copies of any handouts, etc. (After you have spoken with a classmate, I will be happy to answer any specific questions, by e-mail or in person, about what you missed.)
  • Plan to submit work on the appropriate due-date (an excused absence does not automatically come with an extension), or if appropriate, request a specific extension.
Note: It may not be possible to arrange make-up assignments for some due dates or class activities.

5.1.1. Emergency Absences
Those who miss class due to an unplanned emergency should submit an "Absence Form," with proper documentation, as soon as possible.

For each class that you missed, print out and complete a copy of my "Absence Form" (available at http://jerz.setonhill.edu/teaching/Absence.doc). After you initiate this contact, we will start working out whether or what kind of alternative work would be appropriate. (I ask that you resist the impulse to ask me to e-mail you a summary of what you missed. I welcome the chance to help you get caught up, but please first consult the syllabus and a classmate's notes, and then bring any specific questions to me.) For some classroom activities, such as listening to peer oral presentations, there may be no appropriate make-up assignment. (See 5.2 Participation.)

5.1.2. Scheduled Absences
Those who miss class due to a scheduled activity must plan to complete all make-up assignments before the missed class. In order to give us both time to plan, you must submit a complete, acceptable "Absence Form" (see above) a week before the missed class.

If there is insufficient time for us to agree upon an acceptable make-up assignment, or if an approved make-up assignment is late or unsatisfactory, then I may record the absence as unexcused and the missed work as a zero.

Any form of writing is a skill; it is not easy to learn (or teach), and meaningful progress only comes with practice.

  • In high school, your teacher may have called your attention to every single spelling and punctuation mistake on your rough drafts, and then given you points for correcting them.
  • In college, however, you are expected to develop the ability to edit and proofread your own papers. Hence, I do not plan to mark every mistake I find when I review your drafts.

I may mark up only one section of your paper, to show you the kinds of problems that you should address; it will then be your responsibility to identify more of those same mistakes -- as well as other mistakes that I did not mark. 

This same philosophy -- which is not unique to me or to Seton Hill -- also explains why I do not assign, censor, proofread, or fact-check articles that appear in The Setonian. My goal is not to produce a perfect newspaper; rather, my goal is to create an educational environment where students can develop important skills that will be demanded of them in the outside world.

At any time during the semester, if you want additional feedback, feel free to make an appointment with me, or go to the writing center.

The class format will involve workshops, discussion, and some lecture.

Along the way, we will learn about the importance of the free flow of information and opinion in a democracy, and how technology has put more power into the hands of citizens like yourselves over the past few years.

General Requirements
  • Keep up with the readings. Reflect  on them before coming to class, and help sustain an active, positive learning environment. (We won't have time to discuss every reading in glass, so there is an online component that I will introduce shortly.)
  • Please keep copies of rough drafts of papers; that is, instead of saving overtop of your old files, save each new version with a new name "Exercise 1 - Aug 30," "Exercise 1 - Sep 3." I may want to talk with you about your rough drafts before recording a grade.
  • I will often send out bulk e-mails to the addresses on file in GriffinGate. If you check a different address more regularly, please use SHU's e-mail forwarding service so that you don't miss important updates.
  • Although this course does include a great deal of online information, it is not an online class. That means in-person attendance and face-to-face interaction are important components of the course. It also means that I will not be making any attempt to ensure that the online material duplicates everything we cover in class.

As a student in this course, you receive my guidance and feedback, in order to help you reach these specific objectives.

  • Learn the basics of news gathering and news writing.
  • Develop an appreciation for how the news educates the public (which includes you).
  • Demonstrate the ability to read, comprehend, and analyze current events (as reported in the news).
  • Examine the role of the journalist in a democratic society.
  • Identify and embrace depth, balance, transparency, and accountability in news coverage.
  • Identify and reject shallowness, bias, opacity, and elitism in news coverage.
  • Demonstrate the ability to follow the grammatical and stylistic conventions of the Associated Press Stylebook.
  • Meet deadlines while producing quality work for a general readership.

To achieve these objectives, you will develop your ability to write fair and balanced accounts of important issues, while at the same time cultivating a healthy skepticism of the material widely published as "news".

The course is intended to help you achieve the following outcomes:
  • demonstrate a thorough familiarity with the conventions of journalism (as presented via reputable publications, as spoofed in The Onion, and as presented in your own work)
  • speak and write knowledgeably about important issues in journalism and how they interact with the culture at large
  • accurately assess the credibility of a potential source (such as a web page, a press release, or an anonymous tip)
  • exhibit communications skills and research methods which adhere to the standards and conventions of contemporary journalistic practice

English Program Objectives

While you do not need to be an English major in order to take this course, EL227 has been designed to fit into the English program, which pursues seven shared goals. The journalism and creative writing programs each have an additional eighth goal.

  1. Examine a wide range of genres, styles and cultural literatures.
  2. Examine the traditional canon and innovative nontraditional writers and writing.
  3. Demonstrate analytical skills of reading literature.
  4. Demonstrate a high level of research and writing skills.
  5. Write and speak in a wide range of formats appropriate to major emphasis:  fiction, non-fiction, poetry, critical essay, oral presentation.                              
  6. Speak and write about issues in the discipline and how they interact with the culture at large.
  7. Articulate the ongoing relation between personal habits of reading and writing and the evolving study of English.
  8. Specific to:
      • Creative writing: Produce one or more market-ready manuscripts.
      • New media journalism: Exhibit proficient skills in both public communication and research methods which adhere to the standards and conventions of contemporary journalistic practice.

English majors: Save papers from this class for your senior graduation portfolio. They will be particularly helpful when you search for evidence that you have met educational outcome goals 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8.

From the Catalog:

Study of the roles of the journalist in society, the types of journalism, the newsgathering process, and journalism history.
Whether you want to work as a journalist, you see your future as working with words but not necessarily as a news reporter, or you are preparing to be an English teacher, this course will give you a foundation for writing quick, lean, and accurate prose.

As practiced and understood by journalists in the early 21st century, news writing can be seen as the highly-developed craft of non-fiction storytelling. Ideally, journalism is a public-service information-generating profession that generates and distributes timely information and expert opinion through balanced, accurate and thorough reporting.

But journalism can also be described as a personality-driven entertainment industry that stokes the public's fears and feeds its appetite for gossip and scandal, via aggressive, hyped, ego-driven or money-driven reporting. Journalism is a business, which means that journalists must deliver a product that generates income; news organizations are thus tied to corporate interests that influence the representation of news. Journalists face constant pressure to simplify complex information (particularly in science and medicine) so that a channel-surfing and page-scanning public will rely upon on friendly, familiar TV news anchors to interpret the world for them.

In the past few years, a do-it-yourself, non-commercial cultural activity known as citizen journalism or grass-roots journalism (most recently typified in weblogs) has changed the news from a lecture to a discussion. The change has tremendous implications for the traditional providers of news, as well as the general public.

Dennis G. Jerz (jerz.setonhill.edu)
403 St. Joseph, Box 461

E-mail: My last name, at the setonhill.edu domain.

I check my e-mail throughout the day, and usually once more at around 11pm. I am always happy to help with quick answers.
For routine e-mails, feel free to use txt spk if u want; I'll toss off a reply as soon as I can.  ;)

For more serious e-mails (maybe you're asking for an appointment, or a make-up assignment, or you're asking me to do some serious thinking), the quality of your writing should reflect the sincerity of your request.

I do get anywhere from 50-100 messages a day. To help me respond more efficiently to your e-mails:
  • Please make sure your real name and the course number (EL227) appears in the message. (If you use your SHU account, the system will show me your real name; but chances are I won't recognize "suprkewlkid14@hotmail.com".)
  • Please take a few seconds to write a meaningful e-mail subject line.
    • yes.gif Subject: "EL2270: I'm stuck... how should I deal with writer's block?"
    • yes.gif Subject: "Can you help me with my revision in EL227?"
      In both of the above examples, I know in advance whether I can handle your question in a few seconds, or whether I'll need to plan time in my day so that I can concentrate on writing a detailed response.
    • no.gif Subject: "A question about class."
      What class? I teach several each term. What kind of question? Can you summarize it briefly, right in the subject line? (I don't mind txt spk for informal messages.)
    • no.gif  Subject: [Blank]
      A blank subject line doesn't give me any reason to bump your message ahead of the rest.
  • If you're asking me to comment on something you wrote, copy-paste your text right into the e-mail -- that's much faster than sending it as an attachment.

Office Phone
: 724-830-1909 (but you will usually get a faster response if you e-mail)

Office Hours
: Fall, 2009 (in St. Joseph 403)
  • Tue 1:30-2:30
  • Thu 1:30-2:30
  • Fri 10:30-11:30
  • and also by appointment.

Occasionally I step out of my office briefly to run errands during my scheduled office hours. If my light is still on, or there's a note on my door, I'm probably not far away.

Office Visits:

  • I usually leave my office door open. If you should happen to drop by outside of my office hours, and my door is closed, please come back later or send me an e-mail.
  • If I'm with someone when you arrive during my office hour or for a scheduled appointment, go ahead and knock so I know you are waiting.
MWF   11:30 AM  -  12:20 AM 	A308
See daily course outline.
Key Concept:


A primary goal of news reporting, in which the coverage aims to state the the whole truth as accurately as possible, fairly representing the range of opinions of the people involved with the story, without passing judgment and without advocating the personal opinion of the author (see "bias").
Key Concept:


A short article that represents the official collective position of the editorial board of a newspaper. More generally, an editorial is a special genre of journalism that aims to inform, persuade, and/or entertain. 

Like other forms of journalism, an editorial uses quotes, facts, and logic to inform readers, and its content is still covered by ethical principles (see "libel" and "privacy"). Unlike most journalism, an editorial presents an opinion, which means advocating one solution over the solution offered by your political opponents.

Opinions that the editors express on the editorial page should stay there -- they should not affect the news coverage (see "objectivity"). Individual reporters shouldn't slant their stories to reflect or rebut editorial opinions.
Key Concept:

Conflict of Interest

You can [get intimate with] an elephant if you want to, but if you do you can't cover the circus. -- The (Abe) Rosenthal Rule

A conflict of interest arises when someone who is expected to act impartially has a personal stake in an issue (emotional, financial, etc.). In every case, a conflict of interest is a real problem -- even if nobody misbehaves.

Thus, a lawyer who has defended a client in the past cannot be hired to prosecute that same client; a surgeon should not operate on a family member, and a reporter should not cover any news story in which he or she has a personal involvement.

It's still a problem even if nobody misbehaves and nobody means any harm.

The tendency of journalism students to summarize an event from beginning to end, rather than ordering details according to importance. Just as you wouldn't start a sports story by reporting that when the game began the score was 0-0, you don't cover a speech by reporting the names of all the people who thanked each other for working so hard to bring the guest speaker here tonight.
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