July 2007 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.

In some ways, this assignment is really just a big quiz -- it is designed to make sure that you are keeping up with the material, so that you will have carefully reviewed all the important material when you sit down to revise your final draft of your news article. But I'm calling it a comprehensive final exam, in order to emphasize its importance.

Note that the final is held a week before classes end.

This component of your grade evaluates your level of engagement with the subject matter, including preparation, attentiveness, and active contributions to a positive learning environment, as well as other matters of academic integrity and respectful behavior, as described in the Seton Hill student handbook.

Portfolio 1 (100 pts)
Portfolio 2 (100 pts)

The portfolio assignments ask you to collect and reflect on a selection of the work you have completed. (More details about the portfolio will be posted as the first due date approaches.)

Scheduled Quizzes

  • Emphasizing vocabulary (60pts)
  • Emphasizing grammar (60pts)

Additional pop quizzes as necessary. Any quiz may cover concepts such as vocabulary, grammar, AP style, assigned readings, or current events.

Time-sensitive homework assignments, designed to prepare you for upcoming work. Often broken up into segments for peer review and revision. Most of these exercises will involve uploading your work to turnitin.com.

For late submissions, see section 5.3 of the syllabus.

Publication-ready journalism stories.

Spot News (750-850 words)
News Feature (1150-1250 words)

For late submissions, see section 5.3 of the syllabus.

The whole course is based on 1250 points. I report all grades according to the standard four-point scale. Thus, for an assignment worth 20 points, if you get a 15, that is a 3.0, or a B.

  • Articles (300 pts) -- Two publication-ready news articles, completed in several integrated stages.
  • Exercises (240 pts) -- About 2-3 pages of writing, about every other week. Intermediate application of the skills you will need for the articles; may be several short writing or editing assignments, or a whole news story.
  • Workbooks (120) -- May include objective questions (multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank), grammar and revision drills, peer review work, and short essays. There is no workbook to buy -- I will assemble several short assignments for you to complete, usually online, about once a week. Think of these as "problem sets." I won't always mark them in great detail -- I may just glance at your answers and quickly assign an A, B, C, D, or F for the assignment. I may ask you to choose your own grade on the assignment, by writing an in-class essay that quotes from the assigned readings to justify your choice. I have reserved class time to discuss each workbook, and most of the feedback I give will take place during that scheduled class time.
  • Quizzes (240 pts) -- Two scheduled quizzes (one emphasizing vocabulary, one emphasizing grammar), with additional pop quizzes as necessary.
  • Reflective Portfolios (200 pts) -- Two organized collections of your best reflective work, responding to assigned readings and peer work. (More details will come as the assignment approaches.)
  • Comprehensive Final (150) -- At the end of the second-to-last week of classes.

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, you may purchase your own book or check one out from the library, or you may bring an electronic version on a laptop or PDA.

If you wish, you may purchase copies of textbooks through an Amazon.com affiliates page that I have set up. (You don't have to buy them through this link -- you can use the campus bookstore or any other supplier.)



This course expects you to use the internet regularly. I'm not expecting you to have 24/7 internet access, but 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. (Most homework will be submitted via turnitin.com, though some assignments will ask you to use other services. We will spend some class time familiarizing ourselves with the various tools.)

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, with a subject line that follows this pattern: "Smith EL227 Ex 1-2 Absence Form".

Deadlines for the submission of turnitin.com assignments are typically 15 minutes before class starts. (This is to discourage you from being late for class because you were working on your homework, and it also permits me to scan the assignments briefly before class begins.) If your assignment 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 give you the skills you'll need to tackle a larger assignment. For that reason, most of the assignments I've labeled as "workbooks" and "exercises" can't be made up, and won't be accepted more than a day late. You might, however, still have to complete a workbook or exercise for no credit, before I will permit you to submit the next stage in the assignment.

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.)

Class Participation: The way to get credit for a missed in-class activity is to contribute substantially to the online discussion. Post thoughtful comments on the course website, your peers' websites, and/or your own. To make sure that I see and record credit for this alternative work, paste the URLs of your online contributions into a word processor file, and upload the file into the J-Web late paper box in order to make up a missed set of discussion prompts.

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 (see Seton Hill University Catalog, p. 28-29, "Class Attendance" and "Excused Absences".) Repeated late arrivals and early departures will begin to count as absences. We won't always stay for the full two hours on Friday, and often you will be free to work on your projects during that time.

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 so you don't fall farther behind, and then turn in the paper the next morning.)

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 miss, 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 assignments 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 consult the syllabus and a classmate's notes first, 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.

The class format will be involve workshops, discussion, and some lecture. Your job is not to walk into the classroom as a blank slate, ready to write down everything I say so that you can spit it back in an exam. 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 up every mistake I find in your paper. I may instead mark up a section of your paper, to show you the kinds of problems that you should address; it will then be your responsibility to look for those same mistakes -- and other mistakes that I did not mark -- elsewhere in your work. (If you feel you need addiitonal feedback, feel free to make an appointment with me, or go to the writing center.)

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.

Students should keep up with the readings, reflect on them before coming to class, and help sustain an active, positive learning environment.

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 address on file for you in the J-Web system. If you check a different address more regularly, please use SHU's e-mail forwarding service so that you don't miss important updates.

Your objectives for this course are to

  • 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 appreciate depth, balance, transparency, and accountability in news coverage (and also to identify and expose shallowness, bias, opacity, and elitism).
  • 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".

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 feels it comprehends the issues.

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 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

From the Catalog:

Study of the roles of the journalist in society, the types of journalism, the newsgathering process, and journalism history.

Dennis G. Jerz (jerz.setonhill.edu)
403 St. Joseph, Box 461
E-mail: My last name, at the setonhill.edu domain. (To keep your message out of my spam filter, Include "EL227" in the subject line, and make sure your real name appears in the message -- chances are I won't know who "suprkewlkid2005" is.)
Phone: 724-830-1909 (but you will usually get a faster response if you e-mail)

Office Hours: Fall, 2007 office hours are Tu 3:15-4:00; We 1:30-2:30; Th 10-11 and by appointment. St. Joseph 403.

Occasionally I step out of my office briefly to run errands during my scheduled office hours. When I do, I usually leave a note on my door. If my light is still on, then I'm probably not far away.

Office Visits: I usually leave my 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.

MW   11:00 AM  -  11:50 AM 	A402
  F  11:00 AM  -  12:50 AM 	A402
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.

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.
  • One line that has had its wordy parts cut down.
  • One line that has had its wordy parts been cut down.
  • One line that has been cut down trimmed.
  • One trimmed line.
Two lines skipped.
  1. one
  2. two
  3. three
  • point
  • point
  • point

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