COM 301A/B >> Writing for Mass Media >> Spring 2004
301A: M/W 9-9:50 a.m. Laughlin 102
F 8-9:50 a.m. Laughlin 111
301B: M/W 10-10:50 a.m. Laughlin 102
F 10-11:50 a.m. Laughlin 111
Instructor: Brian Carroll
Office: LAU 114
Office hours:
M/W, 11-1; T/Th 9:30-12:30; or by appointment; walk-ins welcome
phone: 368-6944
home: 378-9238
email: bc at
on the Web:


Note: This page will change; please refer to it frequently (and not merely print it out the first week of class)

Course Description:
Basic reporting and writing practices with practical assignments for print, broadcast and public relations media.

Course Purpose & Objectives: To introduce students to the fundamentals of news reporting, writing and judgment, as well as to increase students’ knowledge of local, national, and international current events. Also covered are interviewing techniques, issues in ethics and professional conduct, and traditional and online news-gathering methods. Students will be expected to write clear, accurate and meaningful news stories.

Goals: By the end of this course, my goal is for students to:

• Know how to gather and select information, using both online and traditional methods.
• Be able to organize that information into a news story, on deadline.
• Demonstrate improved news judgments, critical thinking skills and professionalism.
• Become more effective communicators and wiser news consumers.


Reading assignments are identified in the week-by-week calendar.

There are two tests during the course of the semester. These tests could include multiple-choice, short answer and writing and editing on deadline. The final exam will be comprehensive and will be similar to the midterm.

While working in class, these parameters apply:

Quizzes: What resources students may use will vary. Before each quiz, I will tell the class whether the quiz is open-book. I would anticipate that students will be free to use the Associated Press stylebook in most cases.

In-class/in-lab assignments: Use any reliable references, including stylebooks, dictionaries and online sources. Be careful with information found on the Web. When in doubt, cross-check.

Collaboration: I support collaboration, but any graded work must be the student’s own. In some cases, I will encourage feedback sought from one another. For other assignments, I may require solitary work. I will try to be clear about each assignment. Generally, students should operate under the assumption that they are accountable for their own work. When in doubt, ask.

• When an in-class/in-lab assignment is due, it is due. This reflects the reality of many mass communication professions and work environments. Late in-class assignments will not be accepted. Turn in whatever has been done by deadline.

• If we have out-of-class assignments, they must be turned in by the deadline. The only exceptions are medical- or health-related or those previously arranged and approved by the instructor. Assignments will not be accepted more than a week after deadline for any reason.

• Please note: If a student misses a class when an assignment is due and that student has a legitimate excuse, I will accept the late assignment without penalty at my discretion. I define what constitutes a legitimate excuse and reserve the right not to grant full credit for assignments turned in under these circumstances. The same holds true for exams.

Format for all assignments: Please remember: Double-space, 12-point type. Avoid exotic fonts and odd page layouts.

Grade Information

How your grade will be computed (note: this is a change from the printed syllabus):

  50% weekly and daily assignments, quizzes
  20% midterm
  25% final
    5% professionalism (attendance, discussion, participation)
100% total

To compute your final grade, add up your point totals, apply the appropriate percentages, then refer to this +/- grading chart:

61 and below

Definitions of the grades can be found in the Berry College Bulletin. “A” students will demonstrate an outstanding mastery of course material and will perform far above that required for credit in the course and far above that usually seen in the course. The “A” grade should be awarded sparingly and should identify student performance that is relatively unusual in the course.


Extra credit? Students have a standing invitation to bring in errors found in major mass media (major metropolitan newspapers, weekly news magazines, literary magazines, etc.). I will award, at my discretion, 1-5 points of extra credit for each error spotted and submitted (like a typo in the New York Times, for example, or misidentified photo). Submit the exhibit or a copy of the exhibit, write or type the problem found and its solution. Maximum points available per student during the term: 25.

For some assignments, the following point deductions and additions will apply:

+2 to +10 for: developing an exceptionally effective lead; adding substantial and appropriate supporting material; exceptional reorganization or clarification.

+2 to +5 for: clarifying or simplifying confusing copy (including leads); developing effective transitions; catching an elusive error.

-2 to -5 for: (in photos/design) failing to set a byline or credit line in type properly; writing too many or two few lines in a cutline; failing to provide an accurate photo credit; discretionary errors as unnecessarily bumping heads, placing art next to ads or failing to vary head sizes.

-2 to -10
for: eliminating relevant detail; mistakes in grammar, punctuation and AP style; introducing changes that add confusion or wrongly interfere with the writer’s style; failing to improve significant organizational problems (e.g., buried leads); failing to change an ineffective lead or confusing sentence; allowing the copy to
contain jargon, clichés, wordiness, repetition, inappropriate quotes or inaccurate words; minor factual errors (e.g., an inaccurate time element if the effect on the story is insignificant); failing to supply missing information.

-5 to -10
for: (in headlines/cutlines) failing to use all available space on the line effectively; violating fundamental headline/cutline principles, such as bad breaks, unnecessary use of past tense, or passive voice; acronyms or names that would not be immediately recognized by the average reader.

-10 for: each spelling error and each math error.

-10 to -20 for: (in headlines/cutlines) tone or language inappropriate to the story; minor punctuation errors; grammatical errors; minor capitalization or style errors; a first-day headline on a second-day
story, or vice versa; omitting key facts; missing the news; misleading, inaccurate or inappropriate word choice.

-10 to -20 for: (in photos/design) cropping a photo to remove an important detail; failing to fit a story on a page; violating fundamental design principles, such as non-modular layout or wrapping type out from under or above its own headline.

-20 for: not complying with a headline order (e.g., wrong font, size, number of columns or lines).

-50 for: a major factual error, such as a misspelled name; a misspelled headline; introducing libelous material into copy.

for: writing a libelous headline (much more on this later).

Viking Code

Students in COM303 must adhere to the Berry Viking code, particularly the sections on attendance and academic integrity.


In addition to some specific points made elsewhere, these notes on what we will be doing and how we will be doing it are important.

This course is hands-on. The classroom is the newsroom. Students will gather information, check facts, use news judgment and write on deadline. On any given day:

• Students will be given a quiz on news events, spelling, grammar and style.

• Students will give the class a report on what’s new on each beat (more on beats later).

• I will make a presentation, with a Q&A and discussion. I will introduce new material, go over previous exercises, and perhaps involve students in peer editing.

• Students will write. I will explain what you need to know before you do each exercise. As you write, I will try to offer help and provide feedback.

Assignment Preparation. All outside assignments must be typed, double-spaced, and all pages must be stapled not paper clipped. They are due at the beginning of the class for which they are assigned. Papers that do not meet these minimum requirements will not be accepted.

Missing Links, Reserve Material. It is your responsibility to report to me immediately reserve readings that cannot be found or Web links that do not work. If you alert me to a problem in a timely fashion, I can solve it in an appropriate manner. Don't wait until the day of the quiz to tell me you could not find a reserve book or a link. Hint: The phone works better than e-mail when time is critical.

Attendance. You are expected to meet the attendance standards of professional journalists. That means be in class on time every day. No unexcused absences will be permitted, and excessive tardiness will be penalized. If an emergency arises and you cannot attend class, please try to call me before class or leave a message at my office or home. If it is impossible to do this beforehand, please get in touch with me sometime during the day of the class you miss. Bear in mind that the instructor is the arbiter of what absences will be excused. Because of the schedule, makeup tutoring is impracticable.

• Focus: During class and labs, no e-mail, IM, or Web surfing. It prevents you from getting the information you need and it is distracting to your classmates and to me.

Need Help? If you have special needs of any kind, including learning disabilities, please let me know. Come discuss it with me. I want to make sure on the front end that we prevent any problems associated with the course. Martha Van Cise, director of the Academic Support Center: “Students with disabilities who believe that they may need accommodation in this course are encouraged to contact the Academic Support Center in Krannert Room 301 as soon as possible to ensure that such accommodations are implemented in a timely fashion.

Stuff you need

Reporting for the Media, by Fedler, Bender, Davenport and Drager
Associated Press Stylebook
• Email subscription to the New York Times’ daily headlines (it’s free)
• Access to local newspaper (Rome News-Tribune) and major daily (i.e., New York Times, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Wall Street Journal). We can't talk about newspapers if we don't read them.

Stuff you might want (not required, but recommended):

• George T. Arnold, Media Writer’s Handbook: A Guide to Common Writing and Editing Problems
• Lauren Kessler and Duncan McDonald, When Words Collide: A Journalist’s Guide to Grammar and Style
• Andrea Lunsford, The Everyday Writer
• William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White, The Elements of Style (available online, as well)
Webster’s New World Dictionary

Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Rome News-Tribune | New York Times | BBC Online


Day 1:
Jan. 9
Introduction. Syllabus. Policies. What to expect. Powerpoint introducing AP Style Sign up for emailed headlines; buy your textbooks
Day 2:
Jan. 12

What makes news?

read: Chapter 1 of Fedler
AP Stylebook, sections A-F
Copyediting symbols
Day 3: 
Jan. 14
Current events quiz | determine beats
Writing Center presentation | other resources
read: Fedler, appendices B, C, E 
due: Fedler, ex. 1, ch. 1; local broadcast assignment
Day 4:
Jan. 16
AP style quiz | Writing | Leads and the inverted pyramid
read: Fedler, Ch. 2
AP Stylebook, sections G-L
Kurt Vonnegut’s “How to write with style”
due: Fedler ex 3 & 4, Chapter 1
Jan. 19 No class: MLK Jr. Day familiarize yourself with the class blog
Watch Bush's State-of-the-Union
Day 5:
Jan. 21

Current events quiz (based on Tuesday's news sites, blog)
Review homework (and AP style)
Discuss speech coverage

read: Ch. 3 & Ch. 12 (speeches);
On writing well; AP Stylebook, sections M-R
Day 6:
Jan. 23
AP style quiz (live) | Ledes
Speech coverage on deadline

Take the "Grambo" test
AP Stylebook, sections S-Z
Ex. 1 (all sections) & Ex. 2, Chapter 2

Day 7:
Jan. 26
Go over speech coverage | Ledes
Language of News | story ideas by beat

read: Chapter 4; George Orwell on Writing
due: 3 story ideas for/from your beat

Day 8:
Jan. 28

Current events quiz (from Tuesday's sites, blog, class)
Story selection; news values

NYTimes |
Chapter 5
Day 9:
Jan. 30
Style quiz | IT story ideas| Writing on deadline due: Berry IT news story idea; revised story ideas with sources
Day 10:
Feb. 2
Ledes/Leads | Feedback survey

read: Chapter 6
due: verbiage exercise

Day 11:
Feb. 4
Current events quiz | Finish ledes read: Chapter 7
due: Ch. 6, exercise 4
Day 12:
Feb. 6
Ledes | AP style quiz | dealing with numbers

Read: News writing (pages 1-6)
due: story ideas typed up

Day 13:
Feb. 9
Story architecture | go over story ideas | finish ledes Read: Chapters 8 & 9
due: ledes exercise II; your 3 good ledes and the reasons they're good
Day 14:
Feb. 11
Finish story architecture (in preparation for Friday's lab) due: NOTHING!
Day 15:
Feb. 13
Quotes and attribution | Newsroom workshop: speech stories (due at end of lab) due: take-home ledes exercise
Day 16:
Feb. 16
Guest speaker: John Druckenmiller, founder, Hometown Headlines and former editor of the Rome News-Tribune due: 3 good quotes and why; 1 good speech story; 3 questions for Druck
Day 17:
Feb. 18
Interviewing | partnering up | go over ledes exercise | go over speech stories read: interview backgrounder for your partner; current events quiz for BC; final story idea
Day 18:
Feb. 20
Interviewing | re-writing speech stories | no AP style quiz (too much to do!) due: ledes exercise III
Day 19:
Feb. 23
Finish Interviewing due: late ledes exercises
Day 20:
Feb. 25

Final project budget meeting

due: notes from watching/listening to interview; profile interview stories
Day 21:
Feb. 27

Online source credibility | Quiz on Chapter 6 (ledes)

Read (browse through):
Evaluating Web sites
Web searching
Government info on the Web
Search engines
Day 23:
March 1
Brites, follos, roundups and sidebars | observation exercise
Day 24:
March 3
Prepare for midterm (bring your questions) | current events quiz (tuesday's New York Times and | finish budget meeting (301-B) | discuss brites, sbrs, featurettes

Review Chapters 1-10, 12
due: general sources for your final stories if you haven't turned them in yet; 2 brite story ideas, each with a photo possibility

Day 25:
March 5
Midterm (3 parts: 2 AP style and 1 writing on deadline); open book, open Net; bring a stylebook and a Rome phone book
AP Stylebook online (just for Bryan)
due: Fedler ledes exercise, 156-157 (city beat stories only, 5 of them)
Day 26:
March 8
Go over midterms | mediated interviews | transitions in stories (to prep us for feature writing) due: at least six questions your final story will try to answer; at least two credible secondary sources for final (Web sites, press coverage, press releases, reports)
read: course blog on the lawyer who cannot spell
Day 27:
March 10
Feature writing Read: Chapter 14
at least three specific sources (names, titles, contact information) for final (no Web sites)
Day 28:
March 12
Work on feature stories on your own; have a great spring break Read: Brief analysis of a feature  news story
Day 29:
March 22
Public affairs reporting Read: Chapter 15

Day 30:
March 24

Public affairs reporting | current events quiz

due: feature story (700-1,000 words); double-spaced & printed hard copy

Day 31:
March 26
Prepare for Deborah Horan: international reporting; inter- and multi-cultural contexts | AP style quiz

due: by end of lab, Horan dossier using online sources; public affairs story for Rome Herald

Day 32:
March 29

Special guest speaker: Deborah Horan, Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. Topic: Journalism in and on the Middle East

due: 10 questions for Horan typed up and printed out; feature story re-dos
Day 33:
March 31
Horan follow-up | reviewing past assignments
Day 34:
April 2
blogs & personal publishing | business information Read: Blogs; BC on blogging
Business information
due: blog assignment
Day 35:
April 5
Writing for broadcast Read: Chapter 18
Day 36:
April 7
Open meetings, sunshine laws | quiz/exercise on broadcast writing (open book) Read: Chapter 20
Day 37:
April 9
Lab: writing for broadcast assignment (due at end of lab) Read: Georgia's Sunshine Laws
~300-word print news story re-written for broadcast

Day 38:
April 12

business writing | intranets | newsletters Your favorite blogs
Day 39:
April 14
ethics | last current events quiz | course evaluations Read:, NY Times
Day 40:
April 16
final project newsroom >

Day 41:
April 19

ethics II

Read: Read: Chapter 21; Jayson Blair reading
Janet Cook

Day 42:
April 21
course wrap-up Read: Power Reporting
* Final writing projects due:
Section A: by 10:30 a.m., Friday, April 23
Section B: by 1:30 p.m., Monday, April 26

turn into me (LAU 114) | late assignments not accepted (but I will take early submissions)
pepp patty
keep your eye on the prize

• Unless otherwise noted, chapter numbers refer to Reporting for the Media, by Fedler, et. al.

• Pop quizzes will be given frequently so complete the readings before the session for which they are assigned. Read the daily newspaper before coming to class, as well.

• Additional readings might be assigned.

Readings are front-loaded. Like a jumbo jet sitting on the runway, we need a lot of fuel to get off the ground and less once we reach cruising altitude. (Should the classroom suddenly loose cabin pressure, oxygen masks will descend from the ceiling.)

Online resources for fact-checking, a source for almanacs and info found in almanacs

Britannica Online, biographical encyclopedia, regular dictionaries plus 60 specialized glossaries

Acronym Finder

CMP’s TechEncyclopedia, for tech-related information

University of Michigan’s Statistical Resources on the Web

University of Michigan’s Internet Public Library, reference materials, not all of it is useless, good trivia site

Other good general resources for this course:

Web Editor’s Toolkit from Merry Bruns

and the below courtesy of Dr. Frank Fee, School of Journalism & Mass Communication, University of North Carolina

The Poynter Institute is a font of material for journalists. One gem is Roy Peter Clark's brief item, "If I were a carpenter: The tools of the writer."

Journalism Internships, Jobs and Salaries

A dynamite collection of job-hunting tips for journalists is to be found at the JobsPage of the Detroit Free Press. Anyone considering an internship or full-time job in journalism will profit by spending some time at this page, the work of Joe Grimm, Free Press recruiting and development director.
The Free Press site links you to the Knight Ridder job listings. Gannett listings are also on-line.

A good page that can get you started in a lot of good directions is the Scripps Job Resources page. Among its several good links are American Journalism Review's JobLink for Journalists and Editor & Publisher magazine's classifieds. The American Society of Newspaper Editors' Careers in Journalism site has some good information, including an up-to-date internship guide and information targeted to that first job at a small newspaper.

Some good information is to be had at the National Diversity Newspaper Jobs Bank, including listings of minority job fairs. Sources of minority internships and fellowships are also available at the National Association of Black Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association, National Association of Hispanic Journalists and Native American Journalists Association sites. Likewise, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association has a jobs board at its site.

For internships, start by looking at the opportunities in the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund program.

To help you prepare for internship and job tests, I've put together a small collection of links at InternshipPrep. Some of the links duplicate items in the much-longer collection you see here, but some are unique to Internship Prep. Check it out.

The Poynter Institute site has a wealth of material, including some good suggestions for St. Petersburg Times copy editor applicants as the paper searches for "the perfect copy editor." Don't be fooled by the focus on copy editing, these tips will work for anyone.

The Cincinnati SPJ chapter has an interesting report on trends in journalism pay at the "Show Us the Money" site. The American Newspaper Guild's Web site includes reports on  top minimums and other salary data for U.S. and Canadian newspaper reporters, photographers and editors.

Math for Journalists

The Exhibits Collection of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Annenberg Foundation is a growing file of interesting material that includes Math in Everyday Life and a separate exhibit on Statistics, which you can find via the site's pull-down search menu. Topics in the stats exhibit include polls and polling, and the use of statistics in an election campaign, random sampling, margin of error, confidence in polling, effect of polls on elections. Some other sites, compiled by Deborah Potter and forwarded by Phil Meyer, are the free tools at Newsengin, which include a cost-of-living calculator and percent-change calculator; the Philadelphia Inquirer math-help page that includes how to adjust for inflation, annual growth rates and basics of percentage change; Statistics Every Writer Should Know, explaining percentages, per capita, margin of error, etc.; and a related page, Finding Data on the Internet A Journalist's Guide. The jumping-off site for a wide range of calculation engines is the Calculators On-Line Center. Check this one out for sure!

Grammar & Language Skills

Strunk and White without E.B. White. This site offers Will Strunk's The Elements of Style in the original.
Jack Lynch's Grammar and Style Notes page.

Know what a "solecism" is? A "tautology"? Want to brush up on spelling skills? Mindy McAdams' Words for Copy Editors has a lot, including the syllabus for a course she teaches in magazine copy editing.

Stumped on spelling? Not sure of an acronym? Need a thesaurus? Looking for off-beat dictionaries? Robert Beard's one-site shopping center, On-Line Dictionaries, links to more than 400 searchable references.

Copy editors who use pop words and phrases buzzwords do so at their peril if they do not know the word's meaning. BuzzWhack identifies and critiques the latest language trends.


Here are some sites that can give you a quick assist in handling countries where they are, what they are all about, etc..
The broadcaster's Web site, Country profiles is a good first step, but you can also get a lot of information from MSN:Encarta: Geography and, of course, the National Geographic Society's National Geographic: Maps & Geography.

Style Guides

While not quite the AP Stylebook, Basic newswriting style guide and copy editor symbols for the journalism student, is, as its name implies, a selection of key AP rules. The page comes with a fun treatment of copy editing and proofing symbols.
A thoughtful style guide is maintained by Bill Walsh of The Washington Post. It's The Curmudgeon's Stylebook.

Trade News & Gossip

Keep up with what's going on in journalism by reading Jim Romenesko's MediaNews. Some of the top trade publications are online, too, including American Journalism Review's News Link, Columbia Journalism Review and Editor & Publisher.

Searches, Finding Stuff

An excellent tutorial on search engine strategy is available at Bill Dedman's Power Reporting site.
Internet Sources for Copy Editors offers a glimpse at how to use the Internet to get to some useful data bases.

FACSNET is a valuable site created by The Foundation for American Communications, "to provide the knowledge and resources journalists and their sources need to effectively communicate information to the public through the news. "Good source of background information, reporting tips, etc.


The Society of Professional Journalists' ethics page offers a full discussion of SPJ's code of ethics and a discussion of applying it in everyday work, plus links to other sites.
The E.W. Scripps Co. has a page that offers you a chance to wrestle with some real-world issues in ethics and editing. Put yourself in The Editor's Shoes.

The Journal of Mass Media Ethics is indexed from Vol. 10 (1995) on.

For a large collection of case studies in media ethics, check out this Indiana University site.

Online Newspapers

There are a number of sites that purport to list and link to newspapers online. Web Wombat Online Newspapers includes an extensive list (1,750, they claim, but who's counting?) of U.S. and foreign newspapers.

Journalism from A to Z

You really should spend some time examining all the possibilities in Websites for Journalists, an annotated collection of links to other journalism sites. Not all the links you'd ever need, but pretty close.

Another useful starter site is Moorhead State University's Writing and Editing Help, with links to a variety of important pages.

Power Reporting: Free Tools for Journalists offers beat-by-beat Web source guides, a people finder and help with public records.

Professional Associations

questions or comments? email Brian @ bc at
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