News Writing (EL 227)

1. When and Where

M W   11:00 - 11:50 AM  A402
    F 11:00 - 12:50 PM  A402

We won't always go the full two hours on Fridays. Frequently, you'll be dismissed early, occasionally class will be optional, and a few times the Friday class won't meet at all.

Course website:

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2. Instructor

Dennis G. Jerz (

Contact Information:

  • 403 St. Joseph (Box 461)
  • 724-830-1909

Office Hours: Tue 2-3, Wed 1-2, Thu 11-12; and by appointment.

If you want to be sure to catch me during office hours, send me an e-mail to let me know you're coming.

Office Visits: I usually leave my door open. When my door isn't open, please come back later, or send me an e-mail so we can find a time when we're both free.

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3. Course Description

From the Catalog:

Study of the roles of the journalist in society, the types of journalism, the newsgathering process, and journalism history.

While students are encouraged to join the staff of The Setonian, EL 227 does not involve working on the student paper.

If you plan to contribute to the student paper, and you wish to earn credit for it, you may sign up for EL 200, a 1-credit course that meets Mondays at 1.

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4. Course Objectives

Your objectives for this course are to

  • Learn the basics of news gathering and news writing.
  • Develop your ability to read, comprehend, and analyze the news you encounter.
  • Examine the role of the journalist in a democratic society.
  • Identify and appreciate depth, balance, transparency, and accountability in news coverage (and also to identify and expose shallowness, bias, opacity, and elitism).
  • Demonstrate the ability to follow the grammatical and stylistic conventions of the Associated Press Stylebook.
  • Meet deadlines while producing quality work for a general public readership.

To achieve these objectives, you will develop your ability to write fair and balanced accounts of important issues, while at the same time cultivating a healthy skepticism of the material widely published as "news".

As practiced and understood by journalists in the early 21st century, news writing can be seen as the highly-developed craft of non-fiction storytelling. Ideally, journalism is a public-service information-generating profession that generates and distributes timely information and expert opinion through balanced, accurate and thorough reporting.

But journalism can also be described as a personality-driven entertainment industry that stokes the public's fears and feeds its appetite for gossip and scandal, via aggressive, hyped, ego-driven or money-driven reporting. Journalism is a business, which means that journalists must deliver a product that generates income; news organizations are thus tied to corporate interests that influence the representation of news. Journalists face constant pressure to simplify complex information (particularly in science and medicine) so that a channel-surfing and page-scanning public feels it comprehends the issues.

In the past few years, a do-it-yourself, non-commercial cultural activity known as citizen journalism or grass-roots journalism (most recently typified in weblogs) has, in the past few years, changed the news from a lecture to a discussion.

The course is intended to help you achieve the following outcomes:

  • demonstrate a thorough familiarity with the conventions of journalism (as presented via reputable publications, as spoofed in The Onion, and as presented in your own work)
  • speak and write knowledgeably about important issues in journalism and how they interact with the culture at large
  • accurately assess the credibility of a potential source (such as a web page, a press release, or an anonymous tip)
  • exhibit communications skills and research methods which adhere to the standards and conventions of contemporary journalistic practice

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5. Course Requirements

The class format will be involve workshops, discussion, and some lecture. Your job is not to walk into the classroom as a blank slate, ready to write down everything I say so that you can spit it back in an exam. Writing is a skill; it is not easy to learn (or teach). Progress only comes with practice.

The size of the class and the nature of writing instruction both mean that it is not my function to correct every mistake you submit in your rough drafts, so that you can correct the misspelled words and move the punctuation where I tell you to put it.

Rather, my goal is to help you develop your own writing and critical thinking ability, so that you will gain experience identifying and implementing ways to improve your own ability to communicate via the written word. Along the way, we will learn about the importance of the free flow of information and opinion in a democracy, and how technology has put more power into the hands of citizens like yourselves over the past few years.

Students should keep up with the readings, reflect on them before coming to class, and help sustain an active, positive learning environment.

Please keep copies of rough drafts of papers. I may want to talk with you about them before recording a grade.

I will often send out bulk e-mails to the address on file for you in the J-Web system. If you check a different address more regularly, please use SHU's e-mail forwarding service so that you don't miss important updates.

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5.1 Attendance

Students are expected to attend every class. (See Seton Hill University Catalog, p. 28-29, “Class Attendance” and “Excused Absences”.) Because a large percentage of your course grade depends on your timely completion of workbook submissions that prepare you for exercises, and exercises that prepare you for larger papers, falling behind or procrastinating can lead to missed deadlines (which is big trouble in a news writing course).

A student’s final grade is lowered by the proportion of unexcused absences. Thus, a student with a final grade of B+ (3.3 out of 4) with a record of 10% unexcused absences would get a B- (90% of 3.3 = 2.97). Participation can affect your final mark in a similar way.

Seton Hill University recognizes that extra-curricular activities of all sorts are important components of a liberal arts education. Nevertheless:

  • Students who miss a class period for any reason are still responsible for the material covered that day.
  • An excused absence does not automatically grant an extension for any work collected or assigned that day.
If you are absent from class without an approved excuse on a day when a major assignment is due -- perhaps because you stayed up all night working on a paper and are too tired to attend class -- the assignment will be counted an extra day late. (You might as well go to bed without finishing the paper, come to class so you don't fall farther behind, and then turn in the paper the next morning.)

5.1.1. Emergency Absences

Those who miss class due to an unplanned emergency should submit an “Absence Form,” with proper documentation, as soon as possible.

For each class that you miss, print out and complete an “Absence Form” (available at After you initiate this contact, we can discuss when or whether it will be possible for you to make up the work that you missed.

Before you contact me, please consult the syllabus and/or a classmate's notes to determine what you missed. (If you ask me to e-mail you a summary of what you missed in class, I will refer you to this document.)

For some classroom activities, such as copyediting peer drafts, there may be no appropriate make-up assignment. (See 5.2 Participation.)

5.1.2. Scheduled Absences

Those who miss class due to a scheduled activity must plan to complete all make-up assignments before the missed class. This typically means that you must submit an acceptable “Absence Form” (see above) before the date you plan to be absent.

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5.2 Participation

Students are expected to contribute actively to a positive classroom environment, both in person and online. Students who dislike public speaking may wish to invest more effort in their online writing, and vice-versa.

Common sense and common courtesy dictate that absences, late arrivals and early departures, use of telephones or headphones, lack of preparation, and inattentiveness will impact your participation grade.

Those who consistently participate above and beyond the call of duty will receive a bonus.

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5.3 Late Penalties

Any work that is submitted on time and in the proper format receives a 1/3 letter grade bonus. (This grade is factored into the mark I put on the paper -- you won't see a "+1/3" on it.)

Work that is unstapled, crumpled, or otherwise not ready when I collect it forfeits the bonus.

Note: If you feel you want more rapid or more detailed feedback on an assignment, regardless of whether it was late or on time, make an appointment with me during my office hours, and I will go over the work with you in detail.

Getting Credit for Late Work
If your assignment is not ready when I collect all the others, and thus doesn't make it into the stack I collect, I will record a zero for that assignment.

In order to remove that zero, and get partial credit for your late work, follow this two-step process.

  1. Paste a copy of your work into an e-mail (please do not send an attachment) with your last name, the course name, the assignment name, and the word "Late" in the subject line. Example:

    "Smith EL227 Ex 1-2 Late"
  2. Write the word "Late" on a printout of your assignment, and hand it to me at the next class period (there's no need to supply an excuse or make an extra trip to slip it under my office door).

If the e-mail submission of late work arrives in my box by 11:59:59 pm on the due date, it forfeits the bonus but receives no other penalty.

Exercises earn only a maximum of half credit (2.0 out of 4) when they are submitted later than midnight on the day they were due.

Unless I grant you an extension in advance, all other assignments are penalized one letter grade for each day they are late (including Saturdays, but not counting Sundays or SHU holidays).

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5.4 Texts


Brooks, Brian S., George Kennedy, Daryl R. Moen, and Don Ranly. Workbook for News Reporting and Writing, eighth edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005. (Note: this text has tear-out pages. A secondhand edition might not be acceptable.)

Cappon, Rene J. The Associated Press Guide to News Writing: The Resource for Professional Journalists, third edition. Lawrenceville, N.J.: Arco/Petersons, 2000.

Goldstein, Norm, ed. The Associated Press Stylebook, 39th edition. New York: Basic Books, 2004. (A slightly older edition will be acceptable.)

Kovach, Bill and Tom Rosenstiel. The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001.

Levin, Mark. The Reporter's Notebook: Writing Tools for Student Journalists. Columbus, N.C.: Mind-Stretch Publishing, 2000.

Murray, David, Joel Schwartz and S. Robert Lichter. It Ain't Necessarily So: How Media Make and Unmake the Scientific Picture of Reality. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2001.

Seton Hill University Student, Faculty and Staff Directory, Fall 2005. (Will be published a few weeks into the term.)

Additional Required Readings

Readings also include handouts, web pages, and copies of The Tribune-Review (free copies of which may be found outside the cafeteria door). When we are scheduled to discuss an online text, be sure that you will be able to consult a copy of the text during the class discussion.

If you prefer to read from a book rather than from an e-text, you may wish to purchase a printed copy of the following (which is also available for free online):

Gillmor, Dan. We the Media. Sebastopol, Calif.: O'Reilly, 2004.

You may, if you wish, purchase these books from Amazon via the links I have set up.

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6. Assignments

All assignments are marked on a standard four-point scale.

Thus, if a particular exercise is worth 8% of your final grade, and I mark a "3.5" on it, don't panic -- you got a 3.5 out of 4, not a 3.5 out of 8.

When submitting exercises or major papers, your submission must include a printout from, as well as a "submission note" (We will go over this very clearly in class.)

Papers (25%) Full-length, revised news articles.
Portfolios (25%) Reflective assessment of informal writing.
Exercises (25%) Homework.
Classwork (15%) Timed writing, a vocabulary quiz, and other in-class activities.
Final Exam (10%) Some vocabulary and short-answer, but mostly editing, revising, and organizing jumbled facts.

Participation & Attendance (percentage)

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Papers (25%)

Paper 1: Spot News Article
Paper 2: News Feature Article

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Portfolios (25%)

Portfolios are collected four times.

The most important component of the portfolio is your reflection on your online participation.

You are asked to post a brief "agenda item" for each assigned reading, which includes a short quotation from the reading, your initial reaction the reading, and your responses to agenda items posted by your peers.

The portfolio asks you to choose several agenda items and follow up -- that is, write out and post a well-thought-out response to some of the most interesting agenda items -- your own, or ones that your peers posted.

If you post about one well-thought-out follow-up a week, including brief quotations from the assigned readings, then the portfolio assignment will be easy. If you fall behind, you'll have to do a lot of writing to catch up, the effort won't be as rewarding as it could be.

More details will be announced after everyone in the class has had some time to learn and adjust to the online environment where we'll be working.

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Exercises (25%)

The numbered exercises (such as "Ex 1-1") are short homework assignments, usually about 2 pages, generally designed as stepping stones towards later, larger assignments.

This section also includes other routine homework, such as workbook pages and spot-checks of online work.

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Classwork (15%)

Quizzes (including a vocabulary quiz, worth 5%) as well as spot-checks and timed in-class writing activities).

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Exams (10%)

Final (10%) (Date TBA)

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