This class, MC 3103, will focus on news-gathering skills, known in journalism jargon as reporting. You will function as a reporter, covering a beat and producing factual stories for the class blog.
Though reporting is the heart of this class and will account for most of your grade, the point of good reporting is producing good stories. So each grade will also reflect your storytelling success: writing and digital presentation.
The work of this class will be focused on three types of assignments:
We will not have a final exam. Your final story is due at the scheduled day and time of the final (Thursday, May 5, 3 p.m.). You must produce an enterprise (investigative, explanatory and/or narrative) story from your beat, using multiple sources, including public or private documents, data and multiple interviews. If you have an idea for a final story that you don’t feel will meet all of these requirements, discuss with me and I will give you some ideas for reporting that will meet the requirements or possibly waive a requirement if the story and your reporting plan are strong enough.
We will work on some exercises in class that will be graded. You also will get credit for daily exercises by posting links to interesting examples of news gathering on the class blog.
In addition to your final project, each student will produce six story assignments (seven, if the breaking news story doesn’t substitute for one of the seven). You choose the order in which you do the assignments, so your first assignment could be a meeting story or your sixth assignment could be a meeting story. Or anywhere in between.
You will publish each regular assignment on the class blog. In addition, an assignment must include a “reporting note” email to me. The reporting note should:
- Summarize how you gathered the news (interviews, personal observation, research, data, documents, etc.).
- Include contact information for sources interviewed and links to any digital sources used in your research but not linked to in the story. (All stories should link to digital sources of information cited in the stories.)
- If the assignment was a meeting or event that you live-tweeted, please note that and provide a link if you have curated the tweets using Storify or some other tool.
- Provide link(s) to Google Drive (or Soundcloud, Dropbox, YouTube, etc.) file(s) with full raw audio and/or video of interviews (or explain why the sources didn’t want to be recorded).
- Discuss obstacles encountered in your news-gathering and how you overcame them (or why you couldn’t).
- Mention any other context or information that will be helpful to me in grading this assignment.
You will be required to produce four specific core types of assignments:
This will involve covering a meeting of a public or private policy-making body. A meeting assignment will include 3 elements:
- An advance story (which can be a brief) previewing issues to be discussed at the meeting.
- Live coverage of the meeting, using tools and techniques such as Periscope, livetweeting and/or a liveblog.
- A story about the meeting afterward, posted no more than 24 hours after the meeting.
The three elements above will all count as the meeting assignment. If your meeting produces a follow-up story, that will count as a separate assignment. However, the follow-up is one of your optional story choices, not a core assignment.
The event assignment will require coverage of a non-meeting event. This can be a sporting event, festival, rally, protest, conference, press conference or other scheduled event. As with the meeting story, an event assignment will include three elements: advance story (which can be a brief), live coverage and post-event story. If you’re unsure whether a conference or convention qualifies as a meeting or an event, confer with me before or afterward and we’ll decide. As with the meeting, an event story should be posted within 24 hours after the end of the event.
This assignment will require you to find news and meaning in data from your beat. Your data story can be prompted by news, such as the release of a budget for an agency you cover, or the release of a report by the agency. Or your data story can be an enterprise story in which you examine data to find a story at your own initiative. Your story must include an effort to visualize your data using a graph, map or other data-viz tool. Your note about the news-gathering should explain how you accessed or compiled the data, including a link to the public data source if it’s online and a link to a Google or Dropbox doc showing your data analysis.
This assignment will be a profile of a person in the news: Someone appointed to a new position on your beat, planning a run for office, a criminal defendant, athlete in the spotlight, etc. You may interview the subject of the profile, but you may not turn in a story based solely on such an interview. The profile should tell why a reader/viewer should care about this person and provide a mix of personal and professional insight into the person’s experiences and character.
You are not limited in the types of stories for your other two assignments. Some possibilities:
- Repeat of any of the core story types, including a second breaking news story. No more than two stories of any type will be allowed.
- Speech coverage. Like the event or meeting assignment, an assignment on a newsworthy speech should include some live coverage as well as a story (advance story is not necessary). If the speech includes any assertions of fact, you must fact-check them. A speech story should include some reaction from the audience or experts, etc.
- Continuing story. Beats often involve a continuing story, with new developments on the same basic story day after day (or frequently over several months). You may cover a continuing story for up to three assignments for this class. If the story is significant enough, talk to me and we might make it an even bigger part of your coverage for this class.
- Court coverage. You could cover a trial or court hearing as your event story, or you could use such a story as an optional story.
- A story about the death of someone newsworthy. Your profile could be an obituary.
- You can curate social media conversation and news coverage about a particular topic.
- Annual story. Holidays, spring break and other annual happenings require coverage by news organizations. You may cover one of these for one of your assignments.
- Local angle. You can find someone local with a connection to a national or global story. For instance, if a particular nation is suddenly in the news, you might find LSU students who are from nation or a professor who has studied there, and gain their perspectives on the bigger story.
- Your final project will be an enterprise story, but you may do an enterprise story for one of your assignments during the semester.
- Beat tip. As you meet sources on your beat, you will gather and generate ideas for stories.
- Follow-up. You can follow up issues raised at a meeting or event you cover. This story cannot focus on the event, but may mention it.
- This list includes just some basic types of stories. Your two optional stories don’t need to fit into any of these story types. If your story doesn’t fit one of the types listed here, you should discuss the idea with me before working on the story.
If you are disappointed in your grade for an assignment, you are allowed to rewrite one story (except your final project, breaking story or meeting or event story) after receiving your grade and feedback. The deadline for a rewrite is one week after you receive your initial grade. The rewrite should be timely, updating the story or changing the time angle as needed. Let me know as soon as you plan to do a rewrite.
Breaking news story
To qualify for an A in this class, you need to submit a breaking news story. A breaking news story does not assure you an A, it only qualifies you for one. In other words, a student who receives A+ grades on every assignment will receive a B+ for the course if she does not turn in a breaking news story. But a student who receives a B+ average for his work in the course will also receive a B+, even if that work includes a breaking news story. To receive an A- or better, you must submit a breaking news story and do A-quality work. Your first take on the story should be published no less than six hours after the story breaks (no less than 12 hours if it breaks between midnight and 6 a.m.). Your story may (and probably should) be updated as the story unfolds.
Breaking news is news you cannot plan to cover because it was unscheduled and unanticipated. Crimes, fires and accidents are examples of breaking stories. Severe weather counts as breaking news, even though it is usually forecast and anticipated, because you cannot know the specific developments in advance or where or how its impact will be felt worst. Announcements are breaking news only if unanticipated. For instance, everyone expected an announcement about Les Miles’ future after the Texas A&M game, so the announcement that he was retained as head coach would not be a breaking news story. But if LSU made a surprise announcement during the spring semester that he was fired or leaving, that could be a breaking story (but not if preceded by a few days of speculation that it was about to happen). A planned event such as a rally or a sporting event isn’t a breaking news story, but if violence (or some other surprise development) breaks out at the rally or game, that’s a breaking story. For instance, the injury to a Des Moines Register columnist after fans stormed the court at Iowa State was a breaking story.
If you are unsure whether a story qualifies as breaking news, it probably is not. But email or call me quickly with a description of the story and I will give you a ruling as soon as I can. If you produce a story that you think is breaking but I rule otherwise, it can still count as a regular assignment.
A breaking story can substitute for any regular assignment (except the final) or can be submitted in addition to all the regular assignments. In either case, it will count as part of your average for regular assignments.
Optional substitute assignment
In place of one of your optional assignments, you may submit a detailed analysis of a professional journalist’s news gathering process on an excellent story.
The deadlines in the syllabus are the last dates you can turn in an assignment without penalty. But all stories must be posted in a timely fashion. For instance, if you cover a Feb. 16 event or meeting for the first assignment (due Feb. 23), you need to post your story no later than Feb. 17. Other deadlines may be dictated by the story’s news peg. For instance, if your profile focuses on a person in the news, you should post it fairly soon after the news event. If you do a story on Mardi Gras (Feb. 9), you should publish no later than Feb. 10 if that’s your event story, rather than waiting for Feb. 23. Discuss the situation with me if you think your story might need to be turned in sooner than the deadline in the syllabus.
Missing a deadline (not turning in your first story by Feb. 23, for example, or not turning in a meeting, event or speech story within 24 hours) by a day will cost you a full letter grade on your assignment. For instance, if you do A work on a story but turn it in after the deadline, you will receive a B. Turning in a story two days late will result in a penalty of two full letter grades. A story posted more than two days late will result in an F for the assignment. If illness or another emergency might cause you to miss a deadline, contact me as early as possible. If you contact me after the deadline, you will need substantial documentation of a genuine emergency.
Errors in fact
If you catch an error yourself after you have published a story, correct it (and note the correction) and notify me immediately. Explain how you made the error, how you caught it (or who brought it to your attention) and what you will do to prevent similar errors in the future. Fixing your own errors transparently will not generally cost you on your grades. Exceptions might be a substantial error that changes the nature of your story or repeated errors.
If I find what I regard to be a substantive error in one of your stories, I will count off a full letter grade. In other words, a story that would have received an A will receive a B. Multiple factual errors in a story or factual errors in a story’s premise will result in an F for that assignment. I don’t regard any errors as trivial, but some errors such as typos might result in smaller discounts than the full grade, such as knocking an A story down to an A-.
Plagiarism and fabrication
Plagiarism and fabrication are even bigger offenses in journalism than in academia. Everything you produce in this class or as a journalist must be true, and you must cite your sources and link to digital sources. A single incident of plagiarism or fabrication will result in your failing the class and being reported for possible university discipline. We will discuss attribution early in class, and you will learn to attribute. Do it. In every story.
This is not a journalism ethics class, but news gathering presents ethical decisions at every turn, and we will cover many principles of journalism ethics during the course. I hope this will prepare you well for the senior-level media ethics course required of all Manship majors. But if it results in any redundancy, that’s fine, too. When it comes to teaching ethics, we prefer redundancy to gaps.
We will have no textbook for this class, but you will have regular online reading assignments, which I will post to the class blog. Some are on the syllabus now. Others will be added during the semester (both added to the syllabus and posted on the blog). Many will come from my own blog. Others will come from helpful resources that I find online. You will be expected to read these resources and be ready to discuss them in class and apply the lessons from them in your news-gathering.
Every reporter in the class will have a beat. I encourage beats based in the community, rather than a beat that is part of LSU, but if you want to cover an LSU beat (or a beat that would include part of LSU), we can discuss your idea. A beat can be a government entity, such as East Baton Rouge Parish or a state agency. Or it can be a community, such as Denham Springs or Port Allen. Or you can have a topical beat, such as energy, religion, agriculture or the environment. A topical beat will usually have a geographic emphasis, such as Baton Rouge transportation (covering the airport, highways, roads, barges, railroads, etc.). If you’re interested in a beat that’s state or national in scope, let’s talk before settling on your beat.
Your beat will be the focus of your reporting but doesn’t have to be all of your reporting. At least four of your six regular assignments, including your meeting story and data story, must come from your beat. Your final story also must come from your beat (though I will consider exceptions if you want to discuss an extraordinary story possibility). The remaining assignments (including the breaking news story) may come from your beat, but you are also welcome to branch out on any or all of them.
This class does not focus on writing, but reporting and writing are tightly linked in journalism, and finished stories are always the goal of news-gathering. So writing issues and techniques will be featured in many classes, even if the primary topic is a reporting issue. The point of news gathering is producing good stories, which ends with writing and rewriting. Writing will be a part of your grade on each assignment, and a topic of feedback from me.
This is not a video, multimedia or photography class, so we won’t teach techniques in any of those skills. But news gathering includes gathering visual content, from sources and online research as well as by shooting yourself. Every assignment should include some visual content (photos, video, graphic, animation, etc.), and I’m happy to discuss the visual possibilities as you start working on any assignment. If you think a story doesn’t need visual content, I encourage discussing that view with me before you turn it in. I might give you some ideas for visual content, or you might convince me that you’re right.
This is not a class in interactive tools or web design, so I won’t be teaching those skills much. But they are important ways of presenting the results of your news-gathering efforts. I encourage experimentation with digital tools and telling your stories interactively. Some visual elements, such as photos, videos and Google Maps, embed easily in the free WordPress blog we will use for the class. But others will not embed, or need to be produced on the site of the tool developer. All assignments need to be posted on the class blog, but not all content needs to be posted on the class blog. For instance, your class-blog posting could be a one-sentence notice that you’ve written a particular type of story on Medium, Timeline JS or Storify, with a link to that story. Or you might have the written part of your story (and perhaps some visual content you can embed) in your posting on the class blog. But perhaps a map or data visualization on Tableau, StoryMap or Infogr.am might round out the story. You can link to that content if you’re unable to embed it.
Your grade on an assignment will be broken down roughly the following way: 75 percent based on your news-gathering, 20 percent on your writing (including grammar and AP style) and 5 percent based on visual elements. Sharp digital presentation can bring up to 5 percent extra credit.
So everything will start with how well you gather news, and graceful writing will not save a shallow story. But you generally will need clear, graceful writing and effective use of visual elements to deliver a story worthy of an A, however strong your reporting is. The news-gathering expectations will vary by story (and I’m always happy to discuss those expectations before you embark on a story). Some frequent factors I will use in evaluating your news-gathering will be the number and variety of sources, effectiveness of interviews, use of data, effective use of quotes, whether the information you have gathered supports the lead and nut graph of your story.
The grade will break down this way:
- Regular assignments, including breaking news story, 60 percent.
- Final story, 25 percent.
- Daily assignments, 10 percent (daily assignments missed because of unexcused absences will count as zeros).
- Class participation, 5 percent (unexcused absences also will affect your class participation grade).
You will receive grades by email, with feedback from me explaining the grade. If you want to appeal a grade, let me know in writing by email or in person why you disagree with a grade. You must file your appeal within 48 hours of receiving the grade. We will discuss the grade in person before I decide whether to change it.
We’ll use this grade scale (I’ll assign numerical grades to help in calculating overall grades, though I’ll generally call something an A-, C+, etc. in grading, then assign the corresponding number, rather than awarding or taking off points for specific things. These grades are inherently subjective.)
F: Below 69.99
For assignments such as breaking news, event and meeting coverage, I will separately grade the advance, live and post-coverage and average them into one grade. Depending on how you executed the story, if one phase of the story was a bigger part of your work and final product, I will weight it accordingly.
You will receive extra credit for participating in studies at the Manship School’s Media Effects Lab (MEL). I will add detail when I confirm details of how it works, but basically, if you receive the maximum points of MEL participation, you will get two assignments bumped up one level (for instance, from a B to a B+ or from a B+ to an A-).
You may do an extra optional regular assignment (seven total, instead of six, not counting breaking news). In this case, we will still average just six grades (seven if you do a breaking news story), but we will drop out the lowest of your seven grades for regular assignments.
Class meets for an hour and 50 minutes twice a week. A typical Tuesday class will be a mix of lecture/discussion for an hour or so, followed by an in-class exercise applying that day’s lesson (or time to work on a story).
A typical Thursday class will follow the lecture/discussion with a visit (electronically or in person) from a professional reporter for a how-I-did-it discussion. Typically, you will receive a link to the reporter’s story, and a little background on the story, in advance and will be expected to ask questions about the reporter’s news-gathering techniques. Some guests may not discuss a particular story, but instead discuss a news-gathering topic, such as data analysis or working with sources.
We may flip formats some weeks (depending on availability of guests), and we may spend a full class here or there in discussion or with a guest. The schedule is built with two “flex days” in April in anticipation of two days being largely taken over by something unscheduled, such as a class discussion of the news-gathering issues in a big local or national story of the day. I expect that to happen at least twice. If it happens more, we might make other adjustments to the schedule.
Here’s the tentative class schedule. The schedule will be updated through the semester with reading assignments added.
Jan. 14, Overview.
Jan. 19, Accuracy first. Covering a beat. Readings: Tips on verifying facts and ensuring accuracy and Beat reporting: Mastering the topic or territory you cover.
Jan. 21, Developing and cultivating sources. Lab exercise: develop list of potential sources for beat. Reading: Developing and cultivating sources.
Jan. 26, Mining data on the beat. Lab exercise: Explore online data sources on potential beat. Deadline for choosing a beat (by the start of class). Reading: My look at America’s racial divide in 1997, and thoughts on updating it.
Jan. 28, Finish beat coverage unit. Lab exercise: Work on beat plans.
Feb. 2, Breaking news, on scene(s)
Feb. 4, Breaking news, remote. Beat plan due. Reading: Denver Post staffers’ #theatershooting coverage demonstrates Twitter breaking news techniques, How to verify information from tweets: Check it out.
Feb. 9, Mardi Gras holiday, no class
Feb. 11, Finding story ideas. Reading: Finding and developing story ideas (first part, to “developing story ideas” subhead).
Feb. 16, Taking notes. Due: 3 story ideas, one that you plan to execute.
Feb. 18, Gathering visual content. Reading: The Digital Dirt.
Feb. 23, Class canceled because of weather.
Feb. 25, Interviewing skills. First regular assignment due. Reading: ‘Cartel’ author Don Winslow responds to Sean Penn, Shut up and listen: Getting the most from your interviews, Interviewing advice from veteran journalists, When it’s good (and bad) to be ‘stupid’ in interviews.
March 1, News gathering in “Spotlight,” covering meetings.
March 3, Covering events.Making routine stories special. Reading: Make routine stories special. Second regular assignment due.
March 10, Confidential sources. Reading: Anonymous sources: Factors to consider in using them (and don’t call them anonymous), “You didn’t hear this from me …”, Use confidential sources to get on-the-record interviews. Third regular assignment due.
Saturday, March 12, mandatory API fact-checking boot camp. If you already have something scheduled for March 12, let me know the first week of class. Otherwise, this is a mandatory Saturday class.
March 15, Fact-checking follow-up. Fact-checking your own work. Reading: Accuracy checklists.
March 17, Developing enterprise story ideas. Reading: Finding and developing story ideas (starting with “developing story ideas” subhead). Fourth regular assignment due.
Spring break, March 18-28
March 29, Organizing a complex story. Reading: Organizing a complex story.
March 31, off day for fact-checking boot camp.
April 5, Panama Papers and CJR story.
April 7, no class because of Saturday fact-checking boot camp. Fifth regular assignment due.
April 12, Investigative reporting on the beat.
April 14, Narrative reporting and storytelling.
April 19, Advanced verification.
April 21, Flex day. Sixth regular assignment due.
April 26, Difficult and intimate interviews. Readings: Getting personal: Learning and telling life’s most intimate stories, Telling stories of abortion or difficult births.
April 28, concentrated study. Possible panel of beat reporters sharing tips.
Final story due, Thursday, May 5, 3 p.m.
You can find me most days in my office at B-39 Hodges, the Office of Student Media. My specific office hours for this class will be the hour before and the hour after class each day, 1 and 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. But generally I encourage making appointments (whether in regular office hours or not).
You are expected to attend class. If you have a valid reason to miss a class or a deadline, such as a school activity, illness or family emergency, please notify me and provide documentation as quickly as possible and we will make adjustments. You won’t be expected to make up missed in-class assignments (we will just average the other assignments for your grade). You should read posted reading assignments or ask classmates for their notes. You also can ask me about key points from a missed class.
Students with disabilities that require some accommodation on the part of the instructor should discuss this with the instructor as soon as possible. The student should also contact the Office of Disabilities Services to obtain the necessary documentation to present to the instructor in the first week of class.
Student Laptop Requirement
Beginning in Fall of 2013, Manship School of Mass Communication graduate students and undergraduate students declaring a Major or Minor in Mass Communication or Minor in Visual Communication or Political Communication are required to have their own wireless internet access laptop computer upon entering the first Mass Communication class. Please go to our website www.manship.lsu.edu or Journalism 211 for help and additional information.
You are expected to be fully engaged in class. As I explained in a 2014 blog post, I allow students to have their laptops open during class to take notes, look up information that will help them contribute to class, etc. You also are welcome to tweet (or post on other social media) from the class, using a laptop or cellphone. However, if I can see that you are engaged outside the classroom and are distracting yourself or others, I will instruct you to shut a laptop or put down a phone.
Manship School Principles
The pledge of the Manship School of Mass Communication is to establish an intellectually-diverse environment and an educational experience designed to cope with and improve an interconnected, modern world.
Through its students, faculty, curriculum, and culture, the school will create, maintain and support a supportive climate for learning and working among faculty, students and staff who are diverse with respect to race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, age, spirituality, socio-economic status, disability, family status, experiences, opinions, and ideas.
STUDENTS: We will develop a diverse student body that brings a broad range of backgrounds, goals, points of view, and learning objectives to the program.
FACULTY: We will actively seek out, hire, and support a faculty with strong academic and professional credentials with an emphasis on diversity.
CURRICULUM: We will facilitate conversations about diversity both inside and outside the classroom to further an understanding and tolerance among students, faculty and
CULTURE: We will establish a culture of diversity to supplement and inform the Manship curriculum and personnel.
Also, please adhere to the Manship “Writing Essentials,” to be passed out in the first class as a handout.