Media Writing syllabus, MC2010, Fall 2016, Steve Buttry

When and where

Class will meet in Journalism 135 Tuesday and Thursday, 12:30-2:30.

About this class

Whatever mass-communication career you intend to pursue, and whatever opportunities and surprises you encounter on your career path, writing will be an essential skill in your career. This course will teach you how to write effectively for a variety of media. It probably won’t be the kind of writing you’re used to, even if you and earlier teachers have considered you a good writer. But I think it will be a fun and rewarding course that will prepare you for success as a Manship student and success in a media career.

Objectives

When you are finished with this class, you will be able to write for a variety of media platforms and situations. You will understand AP style and grammar. You will understand how and why to write for different audiences and different products. You will be able to discuss writing techniques, tools and styles fluently.

Steve Buttry

If you care, read about my teaching and journalism careers on the about pages on my blog or on my Manship School profile page.

My contact info: stephenbuttry@gmail.com, stevebuttry@lsu.edu, (when emailing, always include MC2010 in subject line); 703-474-0382, 225-578-6693

My office hours: 11:30-12:30 and 2:30-3:30 Tuesday and Thursday, Hodges B39 (office of Student Media). Other times by appointment. Best to make appointments for office hours, too.

Classses

A typical class will include multiple segments, including an opening quiz (about 5 minutes), a lecture/discussion related to a reading assignment (45 minutes), a discussion of AP style and/or grammar issues (10 minutes), a discussion of media or writing issues in the news (5-30 minutes), a second lecture/discussion not necessarily tied to the book (30 minutes), a guest appearance in person or by Skype with a media professional (15-30 minutes), a writing exercise (30 minutes) and a presentation(s) by one or two classmates or me analyzing a piece of professional media writing (5-10 minutes). If you’ve been doing the math, you know that I’ve just described a class more than three hours long. So we’ll never have a “typical class.” We will spend our two hours each class session in a variety of ways, usually some combination of the exercises and discussions above.

Tests

For this class, you need to take the AP style and grammar tests at the LSU Testing Center. You also need to take the Manship School pre-assessment test at the Testing Center (though the grade will not count for the class) no later than Aug. 31. We will have no other tests in the class. No mid-term. No final. But you will have a mid-term writing assignment and a final writing assignment.

Final feature

As noted above, we will not have a final exam in this class. We’ll have a final writing assignment instead. This will be a feature story that will take you out of your comfort zone and/or amplify a voice that isn’t often heard. By Oct. 13, you must turn in a paragraph explaining your idea and why it will be a challenge for you and/or how it will amplify a voice that is rarely heard.

The final feature should be at least 1,000 words or a three-minute video. Your final feature is due the time that our final exam would be scheduled, Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 10 a.m.

I encourage you to turn in a draft of your feature at least two weeks prior to the deadline, so I can give you feedback that will help you in finishing your feature. You are not required to turn in a draft, but it will help you understand whether you are on the right track. Any complaints you have about your final grade will lack credibility if you did not take advantage of the opportunity to receive feedback.

Mid-term story

No later than Tuesday, Oct. 11, you need to turn in a news story that will be your mid-term story. Possible types of stories to write for the mid-term would be covering a speech, meeting, athletic event, political debate or breaking news story. You are not limited, though, to those five types of stories. You may propose another type of story. Whatever story you do, you should email me your story idea in advance of starting work on the story, with “MC2010 mid-term” in the subject line. For a breaking-news story, you may email me as soon as you learn about the story and then start working on it. If it’s not acceptable, I will respond as quickly as possible to keep you from continuing on the story.

A breaking news story is an unscheduled news event. Crimes, accidents, fires, severe weather, firings of public figures and deaths of news figures are all breaking stories. We won’t count deaths of national figures as breaking stories unless they are from Louisiana. For instance, the deaths of Muhammad Ali and Prince would not have counted as breaking news stories (but would have if we were in Louisville or the Twin Cities). The death of a former LSU sports star or Louisiana politician or entertainer would count as a breaking news story for this class.

Your mid-term deadline depends on your story. The last possible time to turn in your mid-term story is 12:30 pm. Thursday, Oct. 13. But for most stories, that will be too late.  Your deadline depends on the news event you are covering. For a meeting, sporting event, debate or speech, your deadline is 24 hours after the start of the event. (That’s a much later deadline than you would have covering the story professionally, by the way.) Your note proposing a news story to cover should say when the event starts and that will be your deadline (unless the event is postponed for some reason, though you might be able to make the postponement a breaking story). For a breaking-news story, your deadline is 12 hours after the story broke (18 hours later if it broke overnight, but no more than 12 hours after you alert me to the story). My email approving your proposed mid-term story will assign the deadline. If you anticipate a heavy mid-term testing schedule, I encourage choosing events before mid-term week, so you don’t mix your mid-term story in with your mid-term tests.

In-class exercises

I encourage you to write without stopping (or only brief stops to check facts) in your in-class exercises. In-class exercises are rough drafts on which I do not expect rewriting and polishing. You will not be graded on AP style and grammar in your exercises, though I will note those matters as things you should attend to in rewriting on actual assignments. You will get the most benefit from in-class assignments from writing quickly and learning to let your work flow.

For most of your in-class exercises, I will provide brief feedback. I will provide more detailed feedback to a handful of exercises each day.

Regular writing assignments

Every other Thursday, six times during the semester, you will need to turn in a writing assignment. At times, I might give you a specific assignment. For example, your first assignment will be to rewrite a piece of professional media writing and your fourth writing assignment will involve interviews (I will explain in class). At other times, you will have options. Even when I give you a specific assignment, you may propose a different option for yourself (you will need my permission to change the assignment, though; no turning in something different from the assignment without permission).

Types of writing assignments you can turn in for the optional assignments (in addition to each of the types already mentioned as options for the mid-term): covering a hearing, covering a festival, political candidate (or race) profile, comparison, obituary, issue explainer, examine a controversy, opinion, curation, live-tweeting an event, press release, TV news script, radio news script, native advertisement, TV ad script, radio ad script, print or digital ad copy, newspaper story.

These types of assignments overlap. For instance, you might decide to write a press release that is an issue explainer, addressing an issue that’s important for a politician you might work for. Or, if you decide you’re covering a hearing or festival, your output from that coverage could be live tweets, a TV or radio script or a newspaper story.

If you are covering an event or a breaking news story, the same deadline rules apply as detailed for the mid-term.

I encourage customizing the work in this class to your concentration and your interests. If you would like to adjust an assignment, or replace it entirely, to fit your major better, discuss your idea with me. For instance, if I have assigned a piece of opinion writing, a student in the political communication concentration might propose writing a speech instead.

Facts

Facts are important in all of the writing disciplines we study in the Manship School of Mass Communication.

A core principle of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics is “Seek truth and report it.”

The Public Relations Society of America Code of Ethics says, “We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.”

The Principles and Practices for Advertising Ethics says, “Advertising has long been committed to high standards of truth and accuracy in all forms of advertising.”

Political communication is not a single profession with a recognized ethics code, and certainly the fact-checkers catch many false statements and outright lies by politicians. But more truth in political communication would improve the political discourse in our nation, so we will hold students from all communication areas to standards of accuracy and truth in this class.

A misspelled name or a significant factual error will result in an F for that assignment. Smaller factual errors will result in a deduction of a full letter grade.

I doubt if any circumstances will justify writing anything that is not true for this class. But if you have an idea that you think justifies using false information — such as a parody column or a news quiz that would have to include false choices along with the right answer — ask me in advance of doing the assignment.

Turning in assignments

Whatever media careers you might pursue, you will be writing and submitting your work electronically. So all of your work for this class will be submitted electronically. Send in-class exercises to either of my email addresses, with “MC2010 exercise” in the subject line, as Word or Google docs.

Your regular writing assignments must be posted to the class blog. In addition to publishing your assignments to the blog, you must send me an email, again with “MC2010 assignment” in the subject line, telling me you have posted the assignment and explaining anything that might help me in grading it (such as deliberate violations of AP style or an unusually long lead). Your explanation should include contact information (phone and email) for any sources you have used, as well as URLs for digital sources, so I can fact-check. I will always endeavor to return your exercises or assignments with a grade and feedback within a week.

Regular writing assignments are due at the beginning of class, meaning that they are due at no later than 12:30 p.m. Late assignments (emails time-stamped 12:31 or later) will be marked down a full letter grade. Deadlines are serious matters in media writing careers and in this class. Unlike the in-class exercises, I expect your written assignments to be rewritten and polished, and to conform to AP style and the rules of grammar.

Writing analyses and grammar matters

Starting the week of Sept. 20, each class will have one or two students presenting to the class an analysis of a piece of professional media writing and/or a grammar matter. You will be required to do one of each, and they will count as part of the writing assignments.

For the writing analysis: You may choose an excellent piece of writing or a bad piece of writing, but it must be a current piece of professional media writing published in the past week. Your analysis for the class – which must project the actual writing for the class, either using slides or displaying the piece online – should identify writing techniques and structures the writer used and discuss how well the writer used them and how they helped or hurt the story.

For the grammar matter: Choose an entry in one of the grammar blog posts listed in reading materials or a passage (does not have to be a full chapter) from your grammar book and prepare a presentation for the class (slides will probably be helpful but are not required). You need to explain this principle of grammar, why and how it is used and provide some examples of good and/or bad use (and possibly valid reasons to break the rule).

Content of your writing analysis and grammar matter will count more than the quality of the visual or oral presentation, but those will also be factors.

Headlines

Headlines have always been an important part of media writing. They are more important in the digital age and will be part of every writing assignment (and each writing grade). We will discuss headline writing early in the semester.

Quizzes, attendance and participation

With rare exceptions, each class will start with a quiz on AP style and/or grammar. We will do the quiz immediately at the start of class and will not repeat it for late-arriving students. If you are late, without an excuse I have received in advance, you will fail that day’s quiz. Your quiz answers must be emailed to me with “MC2010 quiz” in the subject line no more than five minutes after I give you the quiz.

After the first few classes, when I have learned your names, the quizzes will be how I take attendance, so if you arrive late, send me an email noting your arrival, and I will note that you were late, and missed the quiz, but attended class. Beyond the importance of the quizzes, attendance and class participation will be used to decide borderline cases in determining final grades. For instance, if two students are on the B+/A- borderline, and one has attended regularly and participated actively, that student will get an A-. A student who has missed class often, been tardy and not participated actively will receive a B+.

If you cannot attend a class but would like to join by Skype or phone, let me know and we will make arrangements. You will be counted as in attendance, though I cannot guarantee that you will hear and see all that you would if physically attending class.

If you have an excused absence, let me know in advance. If you are ill or have an emergency, let me know in advance. (Or let me know as soon as possible, including an explanation of why you couldn’t tell me in advance.) Excused absences require documentation, such as a doctor’s excuse.

Grades

To be considered for admission to the Manship School of Mass Communication, you must make a B or better in Media Writing.

Grades will always be based mainly on the quality of your writing and what you have been taught so far in the course. For instance, the lead will not be a heavy factor in the first few assignments, before we have covered writing leads. But the week that we cover leads, it will be a huge factor. And it will always be a significant factor once we have taught it. Early in the semester, you will receive feedback on some exercises, but not grades. However, failing to turn in an ungraded assignment will result in an F. The feedback on the first few assignments is to help you improve before I start grading and to give you some expectations to meet. You will receive letter grades with a plus or minus, but not numerical grades: A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, etc.

Repeating a some points made earlier: A misspelled name or a significant factual error will result in an F for that assignment. Smaller factual errors will result in a deduction of a full letter grade. Other common weaknesses that could result in grade deductions are AP style or grammar errors, misspelled words, failing to answer one of the five W’s or bad leads (once we’ve covered leads).

Positive features of your writing that will result in higher grades (or perhaps offset some deductions): clear organization, use of one of the story structures we’ve discussed in class, effective use of visual elements, strong research, strong leads, strong headlines,

These are the components of your final grade:

  • Regular writing assignments, including writing analysis and grammar matter, 35 percent
  • In-class writing exercises (including News U grammar test), 10 percent
  • AP exam, 10 percent
  • Mid-term story, 10 percent
  • Grammar test, 10 percent
  • Final feature, 20 percent
  • Quizzes, 5 percent

Extra credit

You can earn extra credit in this course two (or possibly three) ways:

  1. You may participate in research at the Media Effects Lab. MEL gives up to five points in a semester for participation. If you get two points, you will raise one writing assignment grade by a + or – (for instance, turning a B into a B+). For four points, you will raise a second writing assignment by a + or -. If you get five points from MEL, you will raise three writing assignment grades. You could get all three (or two) bumps in a single grade, for instance, raising a B to an A for all three bumps.
  2. If you participate in the Grammar/AP Style Quiz Bowl, Sunday, Sept. 25, 6-7:30 p.m. in the Holliday Forum, you will also receive one plus-minus bump. Winning something in the Quiz Bowl will get a second bump.
  3. As the Manship School presents events during the semester, I may provide further extra credit opportunities.

Professional behavior

This class is the start of your professional education at the Manship School, preparing you for the career you aspire to in mass communication. You will be expected to learn and model professional behavior. Some examples of professional behavior:

  • Hold yourself to high standards.
  • Seek ways to improve.
  • Listen respectfully.
  • Lead and join discussions.
  • Disagree respectfully.
  • Take responsibility for the accuracy of your work.
  • Take responsibility for mistakes.
  • Seek help before it’s too late.
  • Be accountable.

You also need to avoid unprofessional behavior. Some examples of unprofessional behavior:

  • Doing less than your best.
  • Being late to class.
  • Turning work in late.
  • Chatting or texting on laptops or phones during class.
  • Failing to respond promptly to emails.

Cheating

Quiz answers will not be accepted five minutes after class starts. The class is small, so I will notice if someone who is not in the class sends me quiz answers. This well be considered cheating. It also will be considered cheating to email me that you were late if you did not attend class at all. Listing a friend as a fake source in an explanatory note will result in an F for the story. Don’t cheat. I have a good BS detector.

Plagiarism is a serious offense at a university and will be dealt with through the university discipline process. Plagiarism and fabrication are potential career killers for media writers. They violate the ethics codes for journalism and public relations. If you would consider plagiarism (presenting someone else’s work as your own) or fabrication (making up the information you report rather than gathering factual information), drop this class now and consider a different major and career.

I will punish you in this class as severely as the university’s disciplinary process allows. No second chances for plagiarism or fabrication. This is your only warning.

None of this is not to say that you should not use information and material from other sources in your stories. You should. That’s called research. But when you use that information, you should credit the sources. Always. (For instance, parts of this syllabus are cut-and-pasted or rewritten from Roxanne Dill’s MC2010 syllabus.)

Repurposing your own work from another class may be a form of cheating. If you wish to build on work from another course, discuss your plan with the instructor in advance to learn whether it is acceptable. However, using work done during this semester for LSU Student Media or a professional freelance client is absolutely acceptable (though it must be disclosed). If the Student Media or freelance assignment doesn’t exactly fit the class assignment, you should ask me whether the outside assignment is acceptable as is or needs to be adjusted slightly. I will grade independently of your editors and my judgment of your work may differ from theirs. I’ll be happy to discuss those differences with you.

Collaboration

You will be graded on the work you turn in under your name. However, editing a classmate’s work, or asking a classmate to edit your work, or giving and receiving feedback on drafts, is acceptable. Be sure, though, that you give your work the last read-through, because you are solely responsible for the work you turn in. If you want to propose collaborating with a classmate on an assignment, you may do so. But you must receive approval in advance. The combined work should be about twice as much as you would do on your own, and you will each get the same grade for the final result.

AP style

You will not be expected to learn the whole AP Stylebook. But you will be expected to use the stylebook and to learn eight pages worth of Manship-priority style points (plus 12 more pages of grammar points, some of which are in the stylebook).

AP style is a set of guidelines, not ironclad rules. Sometimes good writing will require violating style or grammar guidelines (we’ll give some examples in class). You may violate these rules in your assignments but must explain the violations in your explanatory notes.

Laptop computers

One goal of this course is to teach you to take effective notes, which media professionals sometimes need to do using notebooks. For the first two weeks of class, you will not be allowed to use laptops during class, except for during writing exercises. At other times during the class, you will be required to use laptops, so you have experience taking notes different ways. Laptops and cellphones may not be used during class, except for class activities.

Class breaks

Class is two hours long, not a short class but not an unreasonable time to expect a professional to work. I will usually provide a break about midway for just a few minutes to go to the restroom, grab a snack, etc. But you are welcome to leave without asking permission if needed at other times, or if I don’t reach a good break time in a particular class. However, you are responsible for learning whatever material you miss while you are gone.

Manship School goals for this class

At the end of this semester, you should be able to do the following:

  • Write strong leads.
  • Organize news stories in inverted pyramid and hourglass structure under deadline pressure.
  • Conduct interviews.
  • Use the internet and library to gather and verify facts.
  • Understand basic legal and ethical principles of mass communication.
  • Recognize bias.
  • Write with sensitivity for diverse audiences.
  • Use Associated Press style.
  • Use good grammar, including parallel structure, subject-verb agreement and active-passive voice.

Communication across the Curriculum

This is a certified communication-intensive course. As a CxC-certified course, we will meet all of the requirements set forth by LSU’s Communication across the Curriculum program, including:

  • Instruction and assignments emphasizing formal and informal writing.
  • Teaching of discipline-specific communication techniques.
  • Use of draft-feedback-revision process for learning.
  • Practice of ethical and professional work standards.
  • At least 40 percent of the course grade rooted in communication-based work.
  • Student/faculty ratio no greater than 35:1.

Our two modes of emphasis are written and verbal communication. See the handout at the end of your syllabus or visit the CxC page to learn how you can become a CxC Distinguished Communicator when you graduate.

Social media

You will use Twitter in this class. Start an account now if you don’t already have one, or if you want to use separate personal and class accounts. Follow me if you haven’t already and I will follow you back. I have already followed some of you.

You may use other social media for in-class exercises and assignments. However, you may not use social media during class for non-class purposes. When laptop and cellphone use is permitted during class, the devices must be used solely for class purposes. If you are using devices for non-class purposes, you will be told to turn them off.

Visual storytelling

This course will not teach visual storytelling skills such as shooting and editing photos or videos. The quality of your writing will always be the most important factor in a grade. With excellent, flawless writing, you can make an A+ in any assignment. But my writing standards are high and A+ grades will be rare. Effective use of words and images together will help your grade on most assignments, whether that might be including a photograph or video clip with a story or presenting a story as a video, rather than text.

Video/audio options

This class will teach broadcast writing but not shooting or editing video or audio (those come in later classes). But if you have video or audio skills, you may do up to three of your weekly assignments and your final feature as video or audio stories. You will be graded primarily on your writing, whatever medium you use.

Class rules

Drinks are allowed in class, but only with closed tops. Eat lunch before class and don’t bring food into class.

Reading materials

Required text: News Writing and Reporting: The Complete Guide for Today’s Journalist, by Chip Scanlan and Richard Craig, Oxford University Press. I will not follow the textbook in class. It is a supplement to the class discussions. Assigned reading will not always proceed in order.

Required text: AP Stylebook.

Required: Dictionary. Dictionary.com or Merriam Webster are fine. You are expected to spell correctly and use words correctly.

Required: Manship School’s key points on AP style and grammar.

Recommended: A grammar reference: Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Conner; The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White; Working with Words: A Handbook for Media Writers and Editors by Brian S. Brooks, James L. Pinson and Jean Gaddy Wilson; The Glamour of Grammar by Roy Peter Clark; Words on Words by John Bremner.

Recommended (and required for one in-class exercise): Language Corner by Merrill Perlman, You Don’t Say by John E. McIntyre, Grammarphobia by Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, Grammarly blog, Roy Peter Clark’s writing for Poynter.org.

If you are not strong on grammar, you might consider News University’s grammar course ($12.95).

You might consider: Grammarly, a tool to check the grammar in your writing (don’t automatically make every change it suggests; it may not follow AP style and the program may not catch the full context every time).

Reading assignments and writing deadlines

Aug. 25, Scanlan chapter 1, Manship AP pages 1-4

Aug. 30, Scanlan chapter 2, Buttry blog post The 5 W’s of writing for the web, Manship AP pages 5-8

Sept. 1, Scanlan chapter 8 (out of order), Manship grammar, pages 1-4, Buttry posts Make every word count and Grammar MattersFirst writing assignment due.

Sept. 6, Scanlan “inverted pyramid” section, pages 241-243, Scanlan blog post on inverted pyramid, Manship grammar, pages 5-8

Sept. 8, Scanlan chapter 10, Buttry blog post Strong from the start, Manship grammar, pages 9-12

Sept. 13, Scanlan chapter 9, Buttry blog posts on verifying facts and accuracy checklists

Sept. 15, Scanlan chapter 3. Second writing assignment due.

Sept. 20, Scanlan, chapter 15, AP Stylebook A-B

Sept. 22, Buttry CJR post The voiceless have a voice, Poynter post How to find the untold stories in your community, AP C-D

Sept. 27, Buttry blog post Writing as you report, AP E-I

Sept. 29, Buttry blog post Using story elements, AP J-M.

Oct. 4, Scanlan chapter 4, AP N-P

Oct. 5 (Wednesday, no class), Third writing assignment due.

Oct. 6, fall break

Oct. 11, feature story idea due

Oct. 13, Scanlan chapter 5, AP Q-S. Final deadline for mid-term story (but note earlier deadlines depending on when story happens).

Oct. 18, Scanlan chapter 6, Buttry blog post Shut up and listen, AP T-V

Oct. 20, Scanlan chapter 7, AP W-Z

Oct. 25, Scanlan chapters 11-12, AP sports section

Oct. 27, Scanlan chapter 13,  AP business. Fourth writing assignment due.

Nov. 1, Scanlan chapter 14, AP broadcast

Nov. 3, AP social media Scanlan chapter 14,

Nov. 8, PR & ad writing, AP food

Nov. 10, Scanlan chapter 20, AP fashion. Fifth writing assignment due.

Nov. 15, Scanlan chapters 17-18, Buttry blog post Make routine stories special, AP religion

Nov. 17, Scanlan chapter 19, AP punctuation. Revised deadline for third writing assignment.

Nov. 22, Scanlan chapter 16, AP news values

Nov. 29, AP media law. Sixth writing assignment due.

Dec. 1, concentrated study

Dec. 6, 10 a.m., final project due

Fall 2016 Important Dates (Subject to change)

  • Aug. 22-31: Manship Pre-Assessment (Testing Center) Required for class
  • Tuesday, Aug. 30: Final date for dropping courses without receiving a “W”
  • Wednesday, Aug. 31: Final date for adding courses, changing sections
  • Wednesday, Sept. 7: Geaux Academic Workshop, Holliday Forum, 5:30-7 p.m.
  • Sunday, Sept. 25: Grammar/AP Style Quiz Bowl, Holliday Forum, 6-7:30 p.m. Extra credit for participation and winning
  • Monday-Friday, Sept. 26-30: AP Style/Grammar Exam (Testing Center) Required for class
  • Friday, Nov. 4: Final date for dropping a course
  • Wednesday, Nov. 23: Thanksgiving holiday begins at 12:30 p.m.
  • Monday-Friday, Nov. 28-Dec. 2: Final week of class & Dead Week
  • Monday-Friday, Nov. 28-Dec. 2: Manship Post-Assessment (Testing Center) Required for class
  • Friday, Dec. 2: Manship application deadline (includes resume and 250-word essay). See Manship website for details.

Disability services

Students who have a condition that may make it difficult to complete class work in the time, format, quantity or quality required should notify me in the first week of the semester so that we can develop an appropriate plan of action. To receive academic accommodations, you must register with the LSU Office of Disability Services. The ODS provides disability management counseling and advocacy for students with documented disabilities. The office also provides disabled students with note takers, communication assistants, readers, sign language interpreters, computerized support assistance and advising on campus accessibility. Accommodations are not retroactive, so take care of this early in the semester.

Manship School writing essentials

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