EL 277: The Practice of Journalism -- Syllabus

Syllabus Outline

  1. When & Where
  2. Instructor
  3. Course Description
  4. Course Objectives
  5. Course Format
  6. Course Requirements
    1. Attendance and Participation
    2. Texts
    3. Assignments
    4. Practicum
  7. Grading
    1. What Gets Graded?
    2. What the Grades Mean
    3. Reduction Policies
  8. University Disability Statement
  9. Course Outline

1. When & Where

  • MWF: 11:00 - 11:50AM
  • A410

2. Instructor

  • Dennis G. Jerz
  • St. Joseph Hall 403
  • jerz@setonhiII.edu
  • Phone: x1909 or 724.830.1909
    Cancellation line: 724.830.1000
  • Office Hours
    • Tue 2–3PM
    • Wed 10-11AM
    • Thu 2-3PM
    • Also by appointment

3. Course Description

"Study of the roles of the journalist in society, the types of journalism, the news gathering process, and journalism history." -- Seton Hill University Catalog, 2002-2004.

4. Course Objectives

This course is designed to introduce the basics of news gathering and news writing, as well as to examine and critique the role of journalist in our society. Students will explore the history, politics, and ethics of journalism as it has developed in its print, broadcast, and online forms.

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 and broadcast as "news". Students will be asked to develop and demonstrate their ability to write some of the major kinds of journalism, news writing is more properly the subject of the course; that is, we will be talking about news writing as much as we will be doing it.

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 biased, inaccurate, and shallow 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 feels it comprehends the issues.

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

5. Course Format

The course involves lecture, class discussion, small-group activities, peer-reviewed drafts, online journaling, and a four-hour practicum in news production.

6. Course Requirements

6.1 Attendance and Participation

Success in EL227 depends upon active discussion and class participation.

  • First unexcused absence:
    1 point subtracted from final grade. (-1)
  • Second unexcused absence:
    another 2 points subtracted (total: -3).
  • Third unexcused absence:
    another 4 points subtracted (total: -7)
  • Fourth unexcused absence:
    another 8 points subtracted (total: -15)
  • Fifth unexcused absence:
    another 16 points subtracted (total: -31)
  • Sixth unexcused absence: Failure.

Excessive unexcused late arrivals or early departures, disruptive behavior, or unpreparedness may compound in my grade book to the point where I treat them as absences. (I'll warn you once.)

If you are absent from class without an excuse approved by the dean of students, on a day when a major assignment is due, the assignment will be counted an extra day late.

Seton Hill University has made a commitment to providing every student with the resources that he or she needs in order to succeed. A formal request for special accommodation must come from the administration. In a pinch I will do my best to accommodate you when asked, but a long-term strategy to help you succeed is not something that I am trained to provide

6.2 Texts

  • Brooks, Kennedy, Moen and Ranly, News Reporting and Writing 7th Ed (with CD)
  • Murray, Schwartz and Lichter: It Ain't Necessarily So
  • A free online subscription to The New York Times
  • Occasional issues of The Tribune-Review (usually found in racks by the cafeteria)

6.3 Assignments

One oral presentation on an assigned topic; short in-class writing exercises; an online journal (reflection on course material, suggesting new material for class discussion, and commenting on current events); a reflection portfolio; a class reporting exercise (on an assigned topic); a term project (either a full-length, original news feature of 4-6 pages, or 1000-1500 words; or an academic research paper of the same length, on a topic cleared with me in advance).

6.4 Practicum

Students will be asked to volunteer a total of four hours observing and participating in the production of the Setonian (or another news organization of your choice) in some capacity other than creating the editorial content (that is, doing something other than writing the words and creating the images) usually associated with journalism. You might sell an advertisement, check a reporter's facts, proofread an issue, etc. (Those who are already Setonian staff members will be asked to volunteer for an area where they previously have little or no experience.)

7. Grading

7.1 What Gets Graded?

Oral Report (assigned topic) 10%
In-class Exercises (about 1 per week) 10%
Homework Exercises & Online Journal Entries
(about 2-3 per short writing activities per week)
Terminology Quiz
Journal/Practicum Portfolio (collected twice per term; you assemble and comment on your best journaling experiences and reflect upon your practicum) 10%
Midterm Reporting Exercise (I will assign a general topic and the class will brainstorm their specific assignments on one day, bring a draft to the next class period (5%), and submit a final copy on the class after that (10%).) 15%
Term Project (a well-researched news feature suitable for publication in a news magazine -- this would be more substantial than showing up at a lecture and writing down what the speaker said; or, an issue-driven, academic paper that makes a specific argument about some issue of the practice of journalism (how it is affected by ethics, gender, politics, technology, etc.). 4-6 pages, with an annotated portfolio of research notes (including rough drafts, printouts of web pages or e-mails consulted, interview notes, etc.) 20%
Comprehensive Final Exam
(optional for students with an average of B+ or higher so far)


7.2 What the Grades Mean

A 93.0% to 100%
A- 90.0% to 92.9%
B+ 87.0% to 89.9%
B 83.0% to 86.9%
B- 80.0% to 82.9%
C+ 77.0% to 79.9%
C 73.0% to 76.9%
C- 70.0% to 72.9%
D+ 67.0% to 69.9%
D- 60.0% to 62.9%
F 59.9% to 0%

7.3 Reduction Policies

Hard drives do occasionally crash -- just like dogs do occasionally eat homework -- but computer problems are not an acceptable excuse for missing or late work. (If you can give me a printout of your most recent version and a hastily scribbled note that promises you'll get me the completed version by the end of the day, I'm much more likely to be lenient than if you show up with nothing.)

If a last-minute computer glitch prevents you from submitting work (your printer runs out of ink, you forget your floppy disk, etc.), the real problem is procrastination. Plan to finish assignments early enough so that a minor setback won't leave you empty-handed on the due date.

Papers are marked down 10% if they are not on time and submitted in the proper format (i.e. if you e-mail a file when I asked for a printout, or vice-versa), and another 10% each day if the paper is not finished and waiting for me when I arrive on campus (usually around 8:30).

If you are absent from or very late to class (without an approved excuse) on a day when a major assignment is due, the assignment will be counted an extra day late.

If you know in advance that you will be absent on the day of a major assignment, make arrangements with me well in advance (I will usually expect you to submit that assignment early)

8. University Disability Statement

If you have a disability that may require consideration by the instructor, you should contact the Coordinator of Disabled Student Services at 724-838-4295 or bassi@setonhill.edu.  It is recommended that this be accomplished by the second week of class.  It is not necessary to disclose to your instructor the nature of your disability.  If you need accommodations for successful participation in class activities prior to your appointment at the Disabled Students Services Office, you should offer information in writing which includes suggestions for assistance in participating in and completing class assignments. 

9. Course Outline

Conventions: When indicating length of assignments for this class, a "page" translates to "200-250 words". If no length is listed, then please be as efficient as possible -- journalists have no room to pad their writing!

(Jump down to the archived weeks, below.)

Archived Weeks


Course website: http://jerz.setonhill.edu/teaching/EL277

Category Tags



Dennis G. Jerz
22 Aug 2003 -- first posted