September 2007 Archives

I was hoping to salvage some of this lab but no dice. We'll have to reschedule for when I"m better.

You will start working on this during class.

Covering Crime and Justice, Ch 5: Covering Crime and Its Victims (note the link goes to just one page in this chapter -- please read all pages in this chapter, through to Covering Rape and Sexual Assault Victims.)  Also, refer to Crime Beat Basics and this little sidebar on the Perp Walk.

Covering crime and its victims requires perspective, persistence and patience. It's a beat where rookie reporters are often assigned, but it is one of the most challenging in any newsroom. Many victims never have had contact with the media. They feel overwhelmed, distrustful and scared. Imagine that after a horrible crime, a pack of reporters, with cameras and tape recorders rolling, surround you and yell out questions.

Assigned Text:

Crime stories

Choose two different crime stories, from an online soruce of your choosing.

One story should be written in the no-nonsense style of the Gomez article, or the article on the Delaware Sate University shooting we looked at in class on Friday. (These will typically have been filed the morning after the crime took place, or sometimes within hours.)

Another should be a feature story, like the article about the student who recovered her thesis. (These can only be written after some time has passed, but there is always a "news hook" -- such as the judge announcing the date of the trial, a jury announcing the verdict, etc.)

For both stories, consider where the suspect (if any) is on a chart of the US criminal justice system. It's very important when reporting crime and court stories that these details be accurate. (Is the crime a misdemeanor or a felony? Is it actually a trial, or just a preliminary hearing? Is the presiding official actually a judge, or some other official? Is your story happening in the US, or did a search engine point you to something that happned in Canada or Australia?)

Writing leads, using periods, and avoiding journalese.

Due Today:

Vocabulary Quiz

Any words I have mentioned in class or that you have encountered in your assigned readings are fair game for the quiz, but obviously if I have written my own definition and put it in the glossary, I feel it's extra important.

2 students shot at Delaware State
Two students were shot at Delaware State University early Friday, including one who was seriously wounded, and the campus was locked down as police searched for a gunman, officials said. Classes were canceled for the day.

Your half-page reflection should demonstrate your ability to apply course material to your readings.

Accident Story Checklist (Melvin Mencher)

- Identification of dead, injured.
- Time and location.
- Type(s) of vehicle(s) involved.
- Cause of accident (from official sources).
- Identification of others involved.
- Where dead and injured taken.
- Extent of injuries.
- Condition of injured.
- Heroism, rescues.
- Arrest(s) or citation(s).
- Funeral arrangements if available.
- Damage to vehicles.
- Speed, origin, destination of vehicles.
- Unusual weather or road conditions.
- Accounts by eyewitnesses, investigating officers.

Carter, "Covering Crime on College Campuses"
Key Concept:

Lead (sometimes lede)

One or two sentences at the beginning of a news story that encapsulate the news. Write it so that the reader would still understand the main point of the story even if he or she only read the lead.
Optional Field Trip, Harrisburg PA

When: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Details: The future of the industry relies heavily on how young people view newspapers and the journalism career path. In an effort to reach future journalists and readers, and to show our support for college newspapers, the Foundation is establishing a Student Editors' Interest Group.This interest group will be made up of college journalists and their advisers from colleges and universities across the Commonwealth. It is our hope that the Student Editors' Interest Group will provide a forum for student-newspaper journalists to discuss common challenges and concerns. For a full agenda, click on the link below.

There is no fee to register. Please note that registration is required. Student & adviser travel stipends are available for this meeting.

Registration: E-mail or call Janet Bevan, (717) 703-3004

Start Date:
End Date:
Tuesday, September 18 2007
Tuesday, September 18 2007

Address: Pennsylvania Newspaper Association Headquarters
3899 North Front Street
Harrisburg, PA 17110

An optional trip to the PA Student Editors' Interest Group meeting - a day-long event. If you are interested in journalism or using your writing and editing skills in some other profession, this will be a great experience.

Workbook 4 may be found in J-Web.  There is nothing to submit to for this workbook.

WB4 is a chance for you to review what we have learned so far. I am also introducing active and passive verbs. (See a handout and slideshow.)


  • Clear
  • Relevant
  • Accurate
  • Fair
  • Timely
Recall the story about the UMass Dartmouth student who claimed to have been visited by federal agents after he ordered a book through inter-library loan. The story hit all the right buttons with the student's professors (one of whom expressed worries that the feds were watching him) and journalists (who zealously guard First Amendment privileges, which seemed to be threatened when a student was harassed for wanting to read a book). As it happened, that story was full of holes and quickly fell apart. "The feds ate my homework" is just the kind of juicy story that will attract attention.

On Constitution Day, I thought we would look a little more at the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights, which guarantees five freedoms -- press, speech, religion, assembly, and petition.

The purpose of this entry is for all of us to practice creating a blog entry on our individual sites, in such a way as to create a link from the new page back to this page, and from this page back to the new page that comments on it.

Imagine if you read something in a book, then pulled out a piece of your own paper and jotted down a note about it.  Somebody else who came along and read the same book would never know that a piece of paper exists somewhere with your thoughts on it.

Blogging can seem lonely and pointless unless other people read and respond to what you have written. So follow these steps, and you'll draw more readers to your writing.
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 (see the "Help" page for the "Trackback Tutorial"). Even if you haven't finished the assigned reading yet, please do post your agenda item on time.)
  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.

Rescheduled from Wednesday.

Complete an online exercise that simulates covering a routine city council meeting writing a feature story. For Wednesday, read the "Nat Gruf Notes" material that is in the Handouts section of JWeb. A 400-word story is due in by Friday.

(I'm going to put off the city council exercise until a bit later.)

Mock SHU press conference

We will do the mock press conference another day.

Assigned Text:

Backup Advice (J-Web)

Read the handout called "Nat Gruf Notes" on J-Web, in Handouts. Use that article as your resource to write a 400-word story. You may work with a partner. You don't need to do any outside research -- just use the information I provide you to find the story.

I had initially planned to have you do a city council reporting activity, but on reflection I thought I'd rather see how you do on a similar exercise that's based on a news feature.

Workbook 3 will be the 400-word article, submitted in, and due Friday.

  • Read chapters 1 and 2.
  • Write a half-page reflection and bring a printout with you to class.

I will introduce the weblogs in class on Friday, after which I would like you to start posting your agenda item and peer comments as I described them in class. But for now, just bring the half-page reflection to class.

Note that I am also asking for a different half-page reflection for today's other reading assignment.

Language, Tone, Concision

Assigned Text:

Mao (J-Web)

Read two short news articles, Mao's Little Red Book 1 and 2, available on J-Web under handouts.

Coverage of SHU's Sept. 6 Opening Liturgy, or some other local event (arranged in advance).

The workbook, in two parts, is available in the "Coursework" section of J-Web. Due 5pm today.

I delivered most of the "Invisible Observer" content in class Friday, so this workbook has a slightly different focus. Open book, open notes, but please don't get help from each other.

Rescheduled from 07 Sep.

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.

Structure of a News Story

  • Lead
  • Quotes/Key Details
  • Nut
  • News (run through all kinds of newsworthiness)
  • Background (connect to previous events to show significance of developments)
  • Other Details
Developing News / Writing to Deadline

An ongoing story can twist suddenly. Sago Mine; Duke Lacrosse party; see this soft story on the grieving parents of a missing preschooler; then, the preschooler's mother "fears charges" and was recently named a suspect.

Invisible Observer

Assigned Text:

AP Guide to News Writing

Read chapters 1 and 2, paying special attention to ways to reduce clutter, and to use specific details rather than make general statements.:

Smith pushes a black cat out of the way to sit in front of her 30-inch flatscreen TV, on which three other cats are perched.

"Where's the remote?" she says, and finds it under a snoring heap of white and gray fur at the other end of her 24-foot trailer.

She puts on a DVD, the 2001 comedy "Cats and Dogs."

"I don't so much care for the dogs," she says, "but the cats are fun to watch."

Nowhere does this passage say "the lady is obsessed with cats," because 1) that would be an opinion, and journalists are not supposed to put their own opinions into news stories; and 2) the details clearly SHOW that the woman is obsessed with cats. (If this were a TV report, the camera would just pan across a room full of cats, and the sound of mewing would be in the background of the whole report. In print, you have to put specific details into words, and organize them to create the effect you want to get across.)

Assigned Text:

Sago (J-Web)

Several breaking news stories. Note how many and what kinds of sources there are. Note how the reporter uses direct quotes and specific details to convey not only the facts of what happened, but also the emotions of the participants.

Due Today:

Ex 2: Peer Profile

One of the best ways to learn is by doing. We won't learn much about news writing unless we start writing news articles.

Length: 400 words. Submit to, 15 minutes before class begins. (You'll need the class ID and the password I gave out in class Friday.)

Do not simply list your questions and your peer's answers in the form of a Q & A. Use the Geist reading as a model. Tell a story, using brief quotations from at least three different sources.

What is unique and interesting about your peer? Why would anyone want to read an article about him or her?

Pay attention to:

  • intensifiers (avoid simple ones like "very" or "the best/worst")
  • sources (you did exchange contact information with your peer, so that you could continue your interview outside of class, right?)

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.) 

A movie or restaurant review might not have any interviews at all -- the whole article would be based on the reporter's direct observations.

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."


Labor Day

Recent Comments

aya on Editorial: ahh... there's no example of a
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