September 2009 Archives

Assigned Text:

Comparison of Front Pages

Newseum Website
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Print Layout Resources

Due Today:

Article 2 Copy Edit

For practice: AP style practice quiz.

Print Layout

AP style practice quiz

Due Today:

Article 2 Draft

Assigned Text:

Cappon Ch 6, 8

Originally scheduled for Friday the 25th.
Due Today:

Article 2 Model

Find an article, published within the last 3 months, that you consider a useful model for the story you were assigned. Demonstrate your developing understanding of news writing by creating your own "X-Ray reading" of it.

You can find examples of an X-Ray reading on pages 56 or 132 of Clark & Scanlon.


We'll do some role-playing. Bring 3 questions that you would ask if you had the chance to meet a public figure.

The public figure would be the university president.
Assigned Text:

Sample Spot News

In both cases, the reporter traveled to a specific location and reported on a specific event, not because the event itself was newsworthy, but because it created an opportunity to report on some event that has a much greater scope.
Golden Gate Park layoffs
Note that the story is bigger than what's happening in one park, but the reporter focuses on one location, using details from this location to provide some context to help explain what is happening across the region.
Ethanol IndyCars
The combination of details about racing cars and details about the environment pull in readers who are interested about either subject. Note how the lead functions as a mystery; appropriately, that mystery is resolved within a few short paragraphs.
Optional Reference
Due Today:

Article 2 Pitches

Pitch a story for covering SHU's Friends and Family Weekend (aka Homecoming). Have a back-up, in case someone else makes a better pitch for the story you want.
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Crime Reporting Tips
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Sample Crime Report

You can post one blog entry, with your responses from both readings.

As with the accident reports, a breaking news crime story is typically written overnight, while all the people that you might want to contact for quotes are asleep.  The value of this kind of story is that it is filed quickly, and free of errors.  Given those restrictions, how much room is there for depth and style?

Breaking news crime story:
Brackenridge man shot fleeing robbery attempt

Since several students in the class have reported frustration or impatience with the short accident report, here's an example of a more in-depth story, written about the latest courtroom development, in a story that was originally covered as a breaking news "crime" story.  This is the latest development in an ongoing story; the crime itself is mentioned, but that was weeks ago. What is the actual news in this story?

Court story:
Plea deal reached in Jeannette enslavement, kidnap case

Due Today:

Ex 4: Crime Report

It's listed as being due today, but in fact I want you to come ready for another exercise like the accident press conference.

You will write a short breaking news story, based on the information you get from today's workshop.

Submit to Google Docs as soon as you can (within hours? certainly by the 25th), and share with me and a partner.
As I noted in class, my battery died after the first 21 minutes or so of the mock press conference, so we'll all have to rely on our notes from that point on.

Press Conference 2.mp3

Why is "allegedly" such an important word?

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Story Pitches (and more TBA)
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Cappon, Ch 4

Conserve words. You'll need to use complex sentences to untangle the petty squabbles of a dysfunctional city council, or to convey the majesty of an inaugural parade. Pack more into a smaller space. (Twitter is great practice.)
Due Today:

Portfolio 1

On your SHU blog, write a brief reflective essay, or a list with evaluative notes, that presents your online work, organized into catgories.

If you have been keeping up with your blogging, this assignment will simply involve collecting and reflecting.  If there are gaps in your blogging, this is your chance to catch up.

What is your portfolio?

It begins with a richly-linked blog entry that introduces your reader to blog entries that you have created, and discussions from your peers' blogs in which you have participated, as part of a reflective statement on your progress so far.

Examples of portfolios from previous classes have included a no-nonsense list and a more personal essay. Either format is fine, but however you present your work, it's important to me that you specify where each of your posts falls amongst the categories listed below. The same post can count for more than one category, but if you keep re-using the same handful of posts that's probably a sign you can do a little better next time.

Assigned Text:

Cappon, Ch 3

Who, what, when, where, why, and how: befriend these questions. But don't answer them, in that order, in every lead.


Overview: AP Style and dates.

Highly Recommended: AP Style Practice Quizzes.

Clicker Practice.

Discussion of story pitches.
Write a short accident report, based on information I give you. (The information was the press conference simulation on Monday, where I've also posted an MP3 of the event.)

You may post your article on your blog or Google Docs. Just be sure to post a link here, or share it with me at
Assigned Text:

Bus Plunges
During the quiz, I was tweaking the copy of the text I had prepared.  It turns out that, when I shut down the podium, I didn't save a copy of the revised text.

I did record the press conference, however, so here is the MP3.

Press Conference.mp3

Add final revisions to Google Docs submission by 9am tomorrow.
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AP Style Tips

Delayed from 11 Sep.

Complete an online peer review before class. (Details to follow.)

Update, 11 Sep: 

Since some of the peer interviews came in late, I haven't yet had the chance to respond to everyone's.  So, rather than stating that everyone should be finished on this date, I'll just ask that you keep in mind the value of revising. 

I expect that everyone will benefit from the AP style materials, so that we'll get better final revisions if I extend the peer-review process a bit more.

So, this is less a "final due date" than a reminder that this is ongoing work that I hope you'll keep in mind.  I'm more interested that you are learning and practicing right now, than that you are meeting any specific deadlines with regard to these early assignments.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.


AP Style

Reporters and editors across the globe turn to one source to resolve grammar and punctuation disputes.
Due Today:

Ex 2: Obituary

Update, 09 Sep: Based on what we covered in class on Wednesday, bring a printout of a 400-word obituary to class. You can use this information, from the (fake) university's home page:

Elizabeth Mount College, founded in 1919 by Trappist monks who emigrated from Ireland, is a 2500-student liberal arts college located on an oak-lined hilltop in Steamsburg, in western Pennsylvania. The school is notable for its innovative program in popular culture studies, an archaeology program that arranges a student and faculty exchange program with universities in Eastern Europe, and a state-of-the art experimental toxic waste reclamation facility. The neogothic stone architecture is popular with tourists, especially around Halloween.
Assigned Text:

Clark & Scanlon 294-302

Bring 1) 3 print copies of the latest version of your Article 1 Draft. 2) a photo of yourself, (or plan to pose for photos in class) so your peer will have an illustration to work with.
Assigned Text:

Background material TBA

Key Concept:

Nut Graf

A few sentences, following soon after the lead, that explains the newsworthiness of the article. Sometimes called the "nut graph" (short for "paragraph") or simply the "nut."  Why should the reader bother to care about what follows? How do the events in this story relate to recent trends or events, national or international issues, or unusual human interest?

A story that leads with an account of a mugging might have a nut that notes this was the third mugging this week, or that it happened the night the mayor gave a medal to the police.

When writing a nut, never say, "This story is important because...", and don't try to address every single possible way that a story might be considered newsworthy. Instead, write a paragraph that flows naturally from the news you have just reported, and links these specific details to the greater community of readers, answering the question "who cares?"
Key Concept:

Invisible Observer

In traditional journalism, reporters are invisible observers. They should not emphasize their own participation in the events they describe.

For each assignment that is marked in the daily course plan as an "assigned text" (or just "text" on the "Outline" page), follow these steps as part of your participation grade.

  1. Read: Read the assigned text.
  2. React: 24 hours before we discuss an assigned text in class, post your Agenda Item (a brief quote from the assigned reading, and a brief note explaining what you'd say when called on in class) posted to your blog, following the trackback procedure (which I'll explain when the time comes). Even if you haven't finished the assigned reading, please post your agenda item on time, so your peers will have something to talk about.
  3. Respond: Before class time, I'd like to see everyone post 2-4 comments on peer blogs, but our class is small enough that I think we should all follow each other's blogs.
  4. Reflect: Bring to class a half-page reflection paper that mentions by name a student whose agenda item helped you notice or question something about the assigned reading. I encourage you to post that half-page reflection on your blog, but doing so is optional. (Your upcoming portfolio assignments will ask you to include examples of blog entries that show your ability to reflect deeply, to launch a good discussion, etc., so it will be to your benefit to plan to publish longer reflections on topics that really interest you.)
If you have any questions, feel free to post them right here.
Assigned Text:

Cappon, Ch 1&2

In language, prefer the simple over the complex; the concrete over the abstract, and the personal over the impersonal.
Due Today:

Article 1 Draft

Submit online to Gooogle Docs by 3pm.
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Sample Profile 2
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Clark & Scanlon 70-72

An obituary is a form of profie in which, for obvious reasons, you can't interview the subject.
Write, or sing, or capture on audio or video, or present through a poster or interpretive dance or Halo 3 machinima or a tiny diorama carved out of Lucky Charms marshmallows... whatever,

300 words and/or 2 minutes of content, on your relationship to the news.

All I ask is that in class, you give me something so that I can read, watch, hear, or otherwise re-experience your 2 minute presentation in the comfort of my office. (I may not actually see your in-class performance, because the class will be divided into groups and you'll mainly be presenting for each other. ... so, e-mail me your Youtube URL? Hand me a printout? Burn me a CD?)
Interview a partner, for a 400-word profile; rough draft is due online Monday.
Assigned Text:

Jerz, Newsworthiness

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Sample Profile 1

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Clark & Scalon 164-174

Skim this… I won't grill you on the details of Dr. Seuss's life, but note the reporter mentions the breed of the dog and the model of the car.
You may already be very familiar with how to write an essay for an English class.  Writing scholastic essays gives you verbal and compositional skills that transfer well to news writing.  Nevertheless, your goals as a news writer are different, so what counts as "good writing" is different.


English Essay

News Story

Audience: Your Instructor 

Usually, the instructor knows more about the subject than the student-author.

Audience: The General Reader 

Usually, the reporter knows more about the subject than the general reader. 

Essays for Your Instructor 

  • Your academic goal is to demonstrate how much you know or what you can do.
  • Your instructor does not expect you to be an expert. You are supposed to be learning. You write from the position of a learner.
  • An instructor already knows the subject matter, and is interested in evaluating your knowledge, technique, and growth over time. Your  teacher will read your work with an expert eye, ready to call your attention to claims that are inaccurate, misleading, or incomplete. 

Journalism for the General Public 

  • A journalist aims to inform the reader.
  • The journalist writes from a position of authority. The news is supposed to be a source of verified facts, not just a vehicle for passing along what people are saying. (We will cover the term "verification" later.)
  • Most readers won't know when you are wrong. Their understanding of the subject depends entirely on your ability to research and write the news. 

Personal Perspective

  • In high school, you may have been asked to express your feelings, perhaps by explaining what you would have done if you were in the protagonist's place, or relating a concept to your own life.
  • You used phrases like "I think" or "I feel" or "now that I look more closely at it..." in order to tell the story of how you came to your present understanding of a subject or incident.
  • Your teacher rewarded you for demonstrating personal involvement with the subject, because students who engage in this manner are generally more likely to learn the subject matter.  

Objective Perspective

  • Traditional journalists stay out of the story.  No "I" or "me," and no "this reporter," either. (We will cover the concept of the "Invisible Observer" soon.)
  • Journalists report the emotions and opinions of the sources they interview --not their own personal feelings. (We will cover the concept of "Attributions" soon.)
  • Journalism investigates each story from the perspective of those who care -- including those whose reasons for caring conflict with each other, or with the journalist's personal values. (If it's not interesting to you, it may be interesting to someone.)


Can you recognize a good lead? Do you know when and how to attribute? Can you recognize bias? We'll find out what you know, so that I'll know what you need.
Key Concept:


A news article (hard or soft) should have at least three sources, and should mention each source at least once in the first half of the story. 

Don't leave "the opposing view" until the last paragraph, because an editor will expect to be able to chop off the bottom of your story to fit it in on the page.

A movie or restaurant review is based mostly on the author's direct observations of the subject, and thus might not include any additional sources.

Key Concept:


You should really, really avoid empty intensifiers, a whole lot. They are the biggest wasters of words.

If you feel that your reference to "a big dog" doesn't do the dog justice, instead of writing "a [very big / damn huge / friggen humongous] dog," a good journalist will ask questions so that the passage will read "130-pound Rottweiler named Bruiser." 

If calling something "a disappointment" doesn't do it justice, calling it "a big disappointment" or "a very big disappointment" or "a colossal disappointment" will be no better.  Express intensity in more direct, context-sensitive ways.  A fourth-quarter loss might be "a crushing disappointment," while an uninteresting movie might be "a mind-numbing disappointment."   Instead of "a big X" or "a very big X," consider "a crippling blow," "an unwieldy overcoat," or "a generous pie slice."

Recent Comments

Andrew Wichrowski on Portfolio 4:
Andrew Wichrowski on Haiman 71-73:
Andrew Wichrowski on Haiman 57-67:
Andrew Wichrowski on Cavalier Daily:
Andrew Wichrowski on Harvard Crimson:
Jessie Krehlik on Portfolio 4:
April Minerd on Portfolio 4:
Dianna Griffin on Haiman 57-67:
Dianna Griffin on Portfolio 4: Done :) http://blogs.setonhill
Dianna Griffin on Haiman 71-73:
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