JOUR201 Sample Syllabus: News Writing and Reporting 1

Section: xxxxx, Spring 2017

Day and Time: 

Lab: xxxx Knight Hall



Email: xxxxx; On Twitter: xxxxx

Office: xxxxx; Office Hours: By appointment or immediately after class

Minimum grade of C- in ENGL101, JOUR181 and JOUR200; and permission of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism

JOUR201, News Reporting & Writing I, is a skills-based immersion into journalism. Students will learn the foundations of journalism and the craft’s two main components – reporting and writing of the news — and will explore how news is delivered through multiple platforms, including mobile devices, broadcast, Web and printed publications. They will be introduced to concepts of libel and copyright and discuss the need for multicultural sensitivities in their stories.

Learning Outcomes Expected: 
At the successful conclusion of the course, students will have demonstrated through their story assignments knowledge and professional proficiency of the following:

•   Fundamentals of Journalism – how to judge information for newsworthiness and to report and write with accuracy, balance, objectivity and fairness.

•    Basic News Writing Skills – with an emphasis on spelling, grammar and AP style; use of direct quotes, paraphrasing and attribution; structuring single-sentence and two-sentence paragraphs and tying them together in news stories, following the inverted pyramid structure with crisp, concise and compelling news leads.

•    Basic Reporting Techniques – with an emphasis on interviewing skills and the use of social media, commercial databases such as LexisNexis and the Internet to background stories and to find news.

•    Basic writing of a variety of stories for print, Web, radio and mobile devices. Students will learn to write obituaries and short stories about accidents and/or disasters, crimes and court cases, speeches, meetings and news conferences. They will learn the basics of headline writing and updating stories on continuous Web deadlines. Assignment length will vary from 140-character tweets to 400- to 500-word news articles.

JOUR201 serves as the main foundation for the skills-based curriculum at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, which is consistently ranked as one of the top journalism schools in the nation. This course is designed to be challenging. Be forewarned and prepared.

About the Instructor:

(Paragraph bio goes here.)

Required Readings and Texts:

The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law 2016 edition — a reference guide that you must bring to class each day. You may instead subscribe to the AP Stylebook online and download the mobile app instead of buying the book, but you will need one or the other.

Writing and Reporting News, A Coaching Method, 8th Edition, by Carole Rich. Chapters are assigned to supplement class lectures and writing assignments. You do not need to bring this book to class, although we will discuss concepts covered in the chapters.

Students must read the digital or print Washington Post every day – unless the teacher directs you to another site — focusing on the home page and National and Metro sections, and they should regularly watch broadcast news reports on TV or online. News stories should be analyzed for both quality of writing and depth of reporting. We will discuss the content and structure of stories regularly in class. Students also should sample other media, including other newspapers, broadcast news, websites and blogs, and Twitter feeds posted by journalists.

 A dictionary app (or a bookmark on your computer browser to ). You also will be checking locations on Google maps or

Other readings may be handed out in class, posted on our class site or emailed to you throughout the semester.


There will be several types of assignments and assessments in this class. Most must be typed and double-spaced, with your name and a word count at the top. Please submit paper copies of all assignments, unless otherwise instructed.

News Quizzes: There will be about a dozen news quizzes throughout the semester, with five to 10 questions in each. Quizzes will be given at the start of class. Some quizzes may include a question or two from the week’s discussions or assigned class readings. All quizzes are weighted equally. The lowest two quiz scores will be dropped. News quizzes will be worth 15 percent of your final grade.

In-Class Stories and Exercises: There will be about 15 exercises reported and written on deadline in class – ranging from leads to tweets to Web headlines and blurbs to short radio stories to print stories (such as obits, accident, crime, speech, meeting and court stories.) All are weighted equally. The lowest three in-class scores will be dropped. In-class assignments will be worth 35 percent of your grade.

AP Style Assignments: There will be four AP style exercises. (None of these scores will be dropped.) These will be worth 10 percent of your grade.

Outside Writing Assignments: There will be 10 outside research (LexisNexis), reporting and writing assignments, and students will be given one week to complete many of them. The lowest single grade on an outside assignment will be dropped. Worth 30 percent of your grade.

Final story assignment: Given on the last day of class. This final assignment grade cannot be dropped, and it cannot be taken or turned in late. This will be worth 5 percent of your grade.

In-Class participation: Students are expected to do the assigned readings before class and come prepared to intelligently discuss them. Also come prepared to discuss ongoing news stories. To foster an environment for meaningful discussion, cell phones should be turned off during class, unless otherwise instructed by the teacher. Worth 5 percent of your grade.

Math Competency Requirement: 

All JOUR 201 and 501 students must pass a journalism math competency requirement the semester they are enrolled in the course. Students will be asked to show facility with basic math skills such as adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, rounding, figuring percentages and percentage changes. They must also show they can calculate the answers to questions that might come up in stories, such as figuring out which city in a state has the highest crime rate per 10,000 or 100,000 population, or what the percentage change is in a category of budget spending over the last three years. This is basic math that news journalists must know to do their jobs successfully. It is rudimentary but requires attention to detail.

Students in this class will be asked to solve math problems as part of both crime and budget stories. Students must get all the math calculations correct on both sheets in order to pass the class math requirement. Each sheet will have about five problems. If any problems are missed on the first try, students will get another chance to solve them correctly.

The math work will be integrated into two stories, which will be graded following the rubrics laid out for other stories in class, with any factual mistakes dropping story grades down to an F=55.

If students do not complete the math requirement, they will be given an Incomplete for the class and will not be allowed to enroll in the next journalism skills classes until passing.

Help with basic math problems is available on Khan Academy, at, and on the Journalism Portfolio site, at Look under the Math tab.

If you believe you need one-on-one assistance, you are encouraged to contact the math department or the counseling center, which offer math tutoring and assistance.

Format of Sessions for JOUR201:

This is primarily a skills class, but you cannot learn the essentials of good reporting and writing unless you talk about them. So we will spend the first part of class doing some combination of the following: taking a news quiz and reviewing the answers, discussing the day’s top news, reviewing good writing techniques for print, Web and radio, and getting feedback on previous assignments. The second half of the class will usually be spent reporting and writing on deadline – or dissecting good news writing. For writing assignments, you will be given the facts of a breaking news situation — verbally and/or in writing — from me (or a guest speaker). The story may be an obituary, a brief about a car crash, or a story stemming from a press conference, speech, meeting or court case. Once you have gathered all the information, you will write or tweet, or write headlines or Web blurbs. Typically you will be given 30 to 45 minutes to compose a 250-word news story – and more time if the story is longer.


1.   The three lowest grades on in-class stories and exercises will be dropped.

2.   The two lowest news quiz grades will be dropped.

3.   And the lowest single grade on an outside assignment will be dropped.

Attendance will impact your final grade because any missed assignments – in our out of class – will receive 0 points. See the “Attendance and Punctuality” section for more information. Grades on assignments will be based on the following criteria in an effort to reflect professional newsroom and university standards:

Libel. Any story that includes libelous material will result in an F (55 percent). Examples would be if you describe someone as a murderer in your story before he or she has been convicted, or if you mistype the name of a convicted murderer, implicating someone not guilty of the crime.

Accuracy. Any factual error in a story, including the misspelling of a person’s name or hometown or an incorrect age or address, will result in an F. (You will receive a score of 55 percent for your effort.)

Deadlines. Any story or assignment that is submitted after the deadline will result in an F, which will show up as 55 percent. The deadline for in-class assignments is the end of class, unless otherwise instructed, and for outside assignments, the start of class. Turning in an assignment late, even by one minute, will result in an F — no discussions.

Stories that have no factual errors and are submitted on time will be evaluated based on the following criteria: rules of spelling, grammar, AP style, story structure, conciseness, clarity, readability, accuracy, completeness and fairness.

Grading Rubric. Grades will be assessed as follows:

A (90 to 100 percent): The story has virtually no style, spelling, grammar or punctuation errors and is ready to be published by a professional news outlet with very little editing. The lead is strong, the point of the story is clear and it is well organized. It contains all the important elements, leaving out information that is off point or redundant.

B (80 to 89 percent): The story has a few style, spelling, grammar and/or punctuation errors but with minor editing is ready to be published by a professional news outlet. The lead is acceptable, main points are explained and the story is well organized. The writing may need to be tighter and some word choices may need to be clearer.

C (70 to 79 percent): The story has some style, spelling, grammar and/or punctuation errors but with some editing can be published by a professional news outlet. The lead may be buried, main points may not be clearly articulated, and the story may have left out one or two important facts or included information not germane.

D (60 to 69 percent): The story has multiple style, spelling, grammar and/or punctuation errors. It does not have a clear lead, main points may be missing and the story is poorly organized and written. Key points may be missing, requiring more interviews/calls. The story would have to be substantially reworked to be published.

F (<60 percent): The story is inaccurate, late, libelous or plagiarized, or it is of such poor quality that another journalist would be required to re-report and write the piece in order for it to be published.

Minus and plus grading will be assessed as follows:

98-100 = A+

93-97 = A

90-92 = A-

88-89 = B+

83-87 = B

80-82 = B-

78-79 = C+

73-77 = C

70-72 = C-

68-69 = D+

63-67 = D

60-62 = D-

Below 60 = F

Grades will be recorded as soon as possible so that students can gauge their progress throughout the semester. I will also meet one on one with you, as warranted, to discuss your performance in the class.

 Make an appointment with me if you need help!

Extra Credit for Published Work:

 Journalism students and those considering journalism as a major are encouraged to get news stories published to begin building a professional portfolio.  There are a number of student publications on campus, including The Diamondback, the Eclipse, the Mitzpeh and Unwind! magazine, which accept stories from freelancers and staff writers. Up to two stories published from the first day of class until the last day of class may be submitted for extra credit in JOUR201; each of those two published bylined news stories will increase your final grade by 1 percent. Only originally reported news and sports stories and news features count for extra credit; editorials, columns, reviews and opinion blogs do not. Stories must be published in EDITED news publications –print or online. Submissions from internal (public relations) publications and newsletters (Greek life publications included) will not be accepted. Please consult the instructor for clarification.


 This course is assessed as part of the college’s learning outcomes assessment program,, which helps us identify areas in the curriculum that need updates or improvements. Assessment is required by the university and by the national accreditation body, ACEJMC. Students enrolled in this course will be required to upload two writing assignments and one AP style exercise to the college’s J-Portfolio website.  I will remind you when it is time to upload. Those assignments will be rated using a five-point system that considers how well students write, report and edit their work. The assessment scores do not affect any student’s grade in this class; however, students who do not post the required assignments onto J-Portfolio will not receive a grade for this class until they are posted.

Attendance and punctuality: 

It is important that you attend every class and show up on time. To do otherwise will negatively affect your grade, because you will be missing reporting and writing instruction, class discussions, quizzes and assignments. The dropped grade policy (as described in the grading section above) is designed to accommodate missed class assignments due to brief illness and emergencies. Please notify the instructor in advance, if possible, if you will be missing class due to illness or emergency, so that she can make arrangements to get notes to you.

Academic integrity:

Along with certain rights, students have the responsibility to behave honorably in an academic environment. Academic dishonesty, including cheating, fabrication, facilitating academic dishonesty and plagiarism, will not be tolerated. Adhering to a high ethical standard is of special importance in journalism, where reliability and credibility are the cornerstones of the field. Therefore, the college has adopted a “zero tolerance” policy on academic dishonesty. Any abridgment of academic integrity standards in a College of Journalism course will be referred to the university’s Office of Student Conduct and the college’s associate deans. To ensure this is understood, all students are asked to sign an academic integrity pledge at the beginning of the semester that will cover all assignments in this course. Students found to have violated the university’s honor code may face sanctions, including a grade of XF for the course, suspension or expulsion from the university.

Religious holidays:

 There will be no tests or major assignments scheduled on religious holidays identified by the university. If you expect to miss a class during the semester due to a religious holiday, please notify the instructor in writing before the start of the second class, so she can get notes to you.

Inclement weather: 

If the university closes due to foul weather (snow, ice, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes) or other emergencies and class must be canceled, students will be advised of assignment adjustments by the instructor. We will likely use our class site to make these notifications and/or conduct a virtual class. Please check the university’s home page if in doubt about whether or not classes have been canceled on campus.

Students with disabilities:

 Students with a specific disability (permanent or temporary, physical or learning) needing special accommodation during the semester should make an appointment to meet with the instructor immediately after the first class. Students may be asked to provide the instructor accommodation forms given to them after testing by the Disability Support Service on campus, 301-405-0813.

For more on university course-related policies,  please refer to The University’s Office of Undergraduate Studies: .


(Subject to change at the discretion of the instructor, to accommodate the speed at which the class learns and the schedule of guest speakers. Updates will be posted in the schedule on our class Elms site.) Readings should be completed before the start of class, except for the first class, which will be done after that class.

journalist terpSession 1: Introductions / Course Syllabus Overview:

In-class Assignment – Getting to Know Each Other: Interview and then write up to a 400-word interview story of a classmate. This will printed out and turned in to the instructor. It will be reviewed by the instructor but not graded. It is a chance for you to meet someone new in class, and for me to get to know all of you.

Read: Rich Chapter 1 (Changing Concepts of News) and begin reviewing the Appendix (Grammar and Usage). You should continue to review the Appendix throughout the semester, until you feel comfortable with the material.


Session 2: What is News? Elements of News, Decision-Making. Plus the inverted pyramid story construction for news. And some basics of lead writing. Plus AP Style introduction and AP style practice in class. Your instructor will give you a crib sheet of commonly used style points.

Read: Rich, Chapter 2 – The Basic News Story. Skim your AP Stylebook to begin to get a sense of how it’s organized.

Outside class assignment given out: AP Style Ex. #1, due in one week. You may use your stylebook, but you must work alone.

Session 3:
 More AP style practice. Plus a brush up on basic math points: Calculating ages; rounding decimals; averages; percentages; percent changes and calculating crime rates per 100,000 population.

Read: Rich, Chapter 7 – Leads and Nut Graphs, through to p. 123. (Stop before “Soft Leads.”) And Rich Chapter 8 – Story Organization.

Session 4:
A discussion of hard-news leads: summary leads and delayed identification leads.

In-class: Lead writing.  

Review: Editing Marks (copy editing symbols) in your AP Stylebook (just before the Bibliography). I’ve also put a copy of the sheet in the Files folder of our class Elms site.

Read: Chapter 4, Sources and Online Research, pps. 58 to 68, stopping at “Online Sources.”

Outside class assignments handed out:  Pre-work for LexisNexis session, due at the start of the next class.

Session 5: LexisNexis and library database training
in the classroom with our librarian for Journalism.

Read: Rich Chapter 4 – Sources and Online Research, pps. 68-73, and a tutorial from our librarian.

AP Style Ex. 1 due at start of class.

Outside class assignment #1 handed out: LexisNexis research assignment. Due at start of next class. Complete the LexisNexis sheet that you were given in class, finishing all questions, and please also explain HOW you searched to get your answer.

Session: 6: Structuring the Obituary. Begin discussing quotes and attribution, and paraphrasing and attribution — for paper and people sources. More on AP style.

In-class Assignment: Obit.

Read: Rich Chapter 5 – Interviewing Techniques; and Chapter 17, pps. 334-341 only, on Obituaries.

AP Style Ex. 2 handed out. Due in one week.


Session 7:  We’ll review your first obituary assignment. Then you may start your second obit assignment, which will be due at the start of the next class.

Outside assignment handed out: Obituary. Due at start of next class.

Readings: Rich Chapter 10 – Storytelling and Feature Techniques, up to p. 188.


Session 8: Storytelling techniques: More on using quotes and attribution effectively — and properly using paraphrases and attribution effectively, for paper and people sources. How to avoid plagiarism when writing stories that rely heavily on research.

Due today: Obituary 2. AP Style exercise two.

Outside class assignment #3 handed out: Celebrity Advance Obituary, due in a week.


Session 9: Intro to social media in journalism: Using Twitter. Discuss how journalists use Twitter to cover breaking news; to crowd-source stories; to re-publish stories to a larger audience and to interact with audiences.

In-class Assignment: Create a Twitter account and bio, if you don’t already have one; discuss acceptable do’s and don’ts when tweeting; do live tweets from class discussion using hashtags and @ symbols.

Read: Rich Chapter 3 – Social Media


Session 10: Introduction to Accident, Disaster and Weather Stories. Structuring breaking news stories in the inverted pyramid format, using a tight lead, an amplifying paragraph, then weaving in secondary details/background and context.

In-class assignment: Accident story #1.

Read: Rich Chapter 21 – Disasters, Weather and Tragedy

Due today: Celebrity Obit.


Session 11: Review of assignments. More practice on writing about accidents, disasters. We’ll review and discuss class leads from Monday’s assignments, and review hallmarks of strong news leads. (Brevity (35 words of less); S-V-O structure; using active voice; avoiding unfamiliar proper names; focusing on key point; getting time element near verb; including brief attribution as appropriate.)

In-class assignment: Avoiding redundancies – small exercise.

Outside assignment #4 handed out – Accident /disaster story – begun in class; finish for start of next class. Additional quotes dictated in class.

Session 12: Practice interviewing.

In-class Guest and Assignment: Practice interviewing xxxxxxx, who will talk to you about his or her career in journalism. You will write a 400-word story based on the interview and research from paper or online sources, and due in one week. It will count as a homework assignment. The story will focus on a point of the talk — likely career advice stemming from what the guest learned along his or her career path.  So the story should include info on the guest’s career as well. Must include a focused lead, amplification of that lead, background, quotes, context, transitions.

AP Style exercise #3 assigned.  Due in one week.


Session 13:

Class discussion/exercises: Reporters’ personal ethics and multicultural sensitivities. We’ll have a discussion of reporters’ ethics, the SPJ and Associated Press Codes of Ethics, and then break into groups to talk about one aspect of the Associated Press Code of Ethics. Your group will decide if you agree or disagree with that section of the code, and if not, how you would change it. Or you could as a group add a point into the code that isn’t there — but which you believe should be there. Type up your point and your reasoning in a paragraph for a group grade; be prepared to present/talk about this.

Read: Rich, Chapter 15, Media Ethics, and Chapter 16, Multicultural Sensitivity 


Session 14: Covering Speeches, News Conferences and Meetings, Talk Shows 

Plus: in-class review of leads from accident story

Read Rich, Chapter 18 – Speeches, Meetings, News Conferences.

Due at start of class: AP Style exercise; interview story.


Session 15: Covering Speeches, Talk Shows

In-class assignment: Speech story. You will be starting this in class, and turning in a completed story at the start of the next class. You will be writing the first 350-400 words of a story about this speech. You must double space your story. Write it in inverted pyramid structure, with your news lead at the top; amplification of the lead (possibly a strong quote) immediately below it, then context/background, and finally minor details.

Read Rich, Chapter 18 – Speeches, Meetings, News Conferences.

Homework: Outside of class assignment: Watch and take notes on Sunday morning’s talk show, ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” on Sunday, xxxx, at 10 a.m., on WJLA-TV in Washington (Channel 7).  We will discuss the show on Monday, so that I can help you find a focus. Then you will have a week to write about 400 words, with a strong lead, amplification of the lead, context, background, transitions and quotes, focused on a key point or two made by a newsmaker (not a journalist) on the show. You will not be including every point discussed. You may need to find context and background from primary documents, such as the White House site and congressional sites. A transcript of the show should be available on its site within 24 hours. This story will be due a week in a week.


Session 16: Covering Speeches, News Conferences and Government Meetings

In-class assignment: A town or county budget story working with numbers. 

Read: Rich Chapter 19 – Government and Statistical Stories

Due at start of class: speech story.


Session 17: Covering Speeches, News Conferences and Meetings

In-class: Review leads and structure from recent stories. More.

Due at the start of class: Talk show story.


Session 18: Covering meetings/budgets/more on handling numbers

POSSIBLE GUEST: xxx, who covers the political beat for xxxxx.

In-class Assignment: Meeting or budget story


Session 19: Writing for radio

In-class assignment: Discussion of writing for radio  + analysis of professional radio stories.

Readings: Chapter 11, Broadcast News Writing, Carole Rich book.


Session 20: More on Writing for Radio 

In-class: review/discussion of radio stories from professional sites and write a radio story – a 30- to 40-second reader.


Session 21: More on Writing for Radio, then begin discussing Writing Headlines for the Web

In-class Assignment: Write: a 30-second radio story. Then: Discussion of headline writing for print and Web.

Read: Rich, Chapter 6: Mobile and Multimedia Skills


Session 22: Headlines and Web Blurbs: More discussion

In-class Assignment: Writing headlines for the Web

Read: Rich Chapter 12 – Online Journalism


Session 23: Writing breaking stories for the Web on a 24/7 deadline with updates.

Inclass: Writing a breaking story with constant updates from several sources.

Out-of-class headline exercise assigned; due at start of next class: Web headlines & blurbs. Packet distributed in class today.


Session 24:  Crime and Courts, Copyright and Libel 

In-class Assignment: Libel / privacy / copyright / court reporting notes!

Read: Chapter 14, Media Law


Session 25: Do AP Style exercise 4. 

Work on AP Style Exercise #4, which will be giving to you in electronic format. This must be typed, CORRECTED, into a Word document, because it will be saved as a .pdf and uploaded to J-portfolio. It must also be PRINTED OUT and handed to me for a grade.


 Session 26: Crime & Courts

Inclass Assignment: Crime story: Likely guest. 

Read: Rich, Chapter 20 – Crime and Punishment.

Assigned:  Out of class assignment: Crime rate story, based on campus data and guest interview in class, due in one week.


Session 27: Crime and Punishment: Courts

Notes on: covering the court beat.

In-class Assignment: TBA.


Session 28: Discussion of internships & jobs and upper-level journalism courses.

DISCUSSION WITH GUEST xxx, on the importance of getting freelance experience and internships.

In-class assignment: Live tweeting of guest’s advice. #internships. Start on last homework assignment: civil suit.

Read: Rich, Chapter 22 – Media Jobs and Internships.

Due at start of class: Crime rate story. Write 300 to 400 words, DOUBLESPACED. Put your name and word count at the top.

 Out-of-class assignment #10: court reporting (civil suit) / due at start of next class.  Write up to 300 words, DOUBLESPACED. Put your name and word count at the top. Assume the suit was filed xxxxxx, and you are writing for a local (New Jersey) news site.


Session 29: Final story assignment during last class. TBA. THIS DOES NOT DROP AND CANNOT BE MADE UP.

 DUE: Out-of-class assignment #10 due at the start of class. Civil case. See notes above.