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Writing Across the Curriculum

MMJ 317: Electronic Journalism
Writing in the Majors Guidelines
Professor Thomas O’Hanlon

Role of Writing

This Electronic Journalism course examines the techniques for locating, gathering, writing, and editing news for radio, television and web-based media. It also explores the evolution of news media from the inception of broadcast media through present-day Internet platforms. The types of writing skills that students will practice in this course are applicable to many parts of life, now and in the future. This writing is all about the successful transmission of information in an accurate and interesting way that causes an audience to want to know more because the information is worthy of their attention.

Students will be approaching writing from two different directions. The first one involves finding a voice and being confident to express critical analysis of media content that one experiences in daily life. In other words, a student’s opinion matters in this first type of writing because media content may be very subjective and we should be, as the expression goes, “critical consumers.” However, students should provide a refined opinion based on critical observation and analysis rather than only a gut reaction. Gut reactions are often the first step toward exploring a subject, but then a writer must build on that by applying acquired knowledge of journalistic principles and practice. This course encourages students to move beyond absorbing what they are given without questioning the reasoning or ulterior motives behind it or asking if there is a better way to communicate the information. 

The other key approach to student writing involves polishing one’s ability to tell a story with facts and mental organization by applying the principles of journalism. The areas covered in this course include recognizing the key components of a news story and finding potential stories that may be developed through interviews and analysis. Students will incorporate the time-honored “Five W's” and “H” (what, why, who where, when and how) as they write stories that must be clearly explained and readily understood by a general audience. Students will polish their material by discussing it in a group setting and then revising their work based on the reactions and level of understanding of their test audience in the discussion group.

Disciplinary Writing

In this course students will gain facility with the following genres or types of writing:

  • Basic Journalistic Writing: an unbiased and accurate reporting of the facts.
  • Newscast (single stories): building a logical presentation with relevance.
  • Medium-specific journalism: knowing distinct differences in various media.
  • Feature stories: developing “enterprise” stories that require research.
  • Reflective essay: offering unbiased analysis beyond basic facts.
  • Analytical/critical essay: taking a deeper look at a subject, finding  strengths and flaws.

Expectations of Students in a WIM Course

In this course students will:

  • Apply journalistic principles from text and lectures. These include basic storytelling principles, accuracy, clarity and balance.
  • Become proficient in journalistic writing and develop the perspective required to critique existing media content.
  • Make editorial choices (story selection, time allocated to each story, sequencing and story focus).
  • Fact sort/fact check (functioning as a “gate keeper” to identify relevant stories without being a censor).
  • Apply perspective acquired from reading, lectures and discussion to analysis of media content.
  • Understand and use the tools that are unique to each medium.
  • Seek interesting stories that are not breaking news but contribute to public knowledge (so-called “enterprise” stories that do not immediately reveal themselves as news, but illustrate an important issue and are of interest to the target audience).
  • Write on a weekly basis, initially acquiring increasing levels of skill by mastering fundamental journalistic techniques and then progressively developing the capability to master more advanced techniques.
  • Abide by instructor’s suggested minimum and maximum lengths for assignments, using this guidance to find the proper balance of quantity versus quality in one’s writing.

Expectations of Faculty in a WIM Course

In this course faculty will:

  • Provide class lecture, discussion, reading, viewing and listening (This includes student rebuttal in class.  Students are encouraged to disagree productively with logical reasoning for their different points of view and reactions).
  • Offer prompt, constructive feedback on written assignments. Students will be evaluated on their effective use of journalistic writing style, with attention given to clarity and generating interest with relevant material that is worthy of the audience’s attention. 
  • Provide opportunities for peer review (response sheets, group discussion, polling the room).
  • Create assignments that help students develop their ability to read, view and listen to media news content with a critical eye and to apply the journalistic principles they have learned.
  • Work with actual media in raw form (unedited video and interviews, isolated facts that are not filtered or prioritized).
  • Constructively challenge student editorial decision-making in a simulated newsroom environment.  This includes the professor supervising on-the-spot editorial decision-making with actual material from a broadcast TV station.

Criteria for Assessing Student Writing

Writing will be assessed using the following criteria:

  • Writing is accurate, clear and suitable for delivery to a mass audience.
  • Writing is grammatically correct and subjected to meticulous proofreading.
  • All content that is stated as fact is clearly checked with reliable sources.
  • Information is properly attributed to sources.
  • Journalistic writing is constructed so that the audience may quickly find its relevance and understand the value of the information.
  • Analytical writing, or observational reflections on existing media content, cites examples and constructs a persuasive argument.
  • In journalistic writing, the writer’s personal opinion is not expressed, implied or promoted through selective emphasis or omission of story details.
  • Writing adheres to professional principles which require overall fairness in delivering the news without adding personal opinion that might distort the reporting of the facts.