Expect a fast-paced journey that will be a lot of work and, I hope, a lot of fun.
What: JMC 3023, Feature Writing
Who: Instructor Seth Prince (Just call me Seth, not professor or anything else.)
When/where we meet: 10:30–12:20 Monday, Wednesday in Gaylord 1030
Office hours: By appointment, Copeland 168A (inside The Oklahoma Daily)
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, @seth_prince, 405.325.6334
The goal of this class is to help you write the best nonfiction features of your career to date and in doing so to learn broader storytelling takeaways of benefit in your upcoming professional life.
In doing so we will dispel any notion that feature writing is at the simple end of the journalism spectrum, and instead make clear that the best of this type of work relies on more fully developed reporting skills coupled with advanced writing tools. We’ll dive into real-world written and broadcast examples, discussions about and reporting of several basic types of features: Q&A, essay, profile/obituary, human interest and trend. In addition, you will research and interview one of your favorite writers to understand his or her career path and the story behind a great story. Also, to develop experience with the marketing of stories, you will write a resume and pitch letter that you would send to an editor you would like to purchase your work.
Three things are essential for success in this course: A creative and collaborative approach, a dedicated work ethic and diligent time-management skills.
Like a professional newsroom, our classroom meetings will be discussion oriented and students will be expected – and graded in part on their willingness – to consistently contribute to that conversation. Our discussion will stress the importance of understanding your audience, generating original story ideas, developing interviewing and reporting skills, experimenting with story structure and, finally, refining writing techniques such as tension, action, dialog, detail and character development to generate fully-formed, digital-era features.
HOW AND WHERE WE WILL WORK
To experiment with new platforms for writing, editing, collaboration and ultimately publishing, we will write and edit in Google Drive and then publish on WordPress (you’ll be invited for the semester to be a contributor to my site). After peer and instructor editing creates a fully formed and graded product, whenever possible we will aim to get our stories published to broader audiences, be it via OU Daily, Sooner yearbook or off-campus outlets. We also will explore the long-tail, digital arc that features can have via metrics as well as social media tools and discuss how to capitalize on those as writers after our work is published.
WHAT WE WILL CREATE AND HOW IT WILL BE JUDGED
We’ll aim to see the forest for the trees — details matter greatly, but conceptual learning is vital, too.
If you’re a word person, write us the story. If you’re a broadcast person, write us the script and then make the package. Whatever your major, you will be required to think digitally, and to provide some of the visuals that would be associated with the final product we would like to get published.
You will be graded on eight, equally weighted, 250-point assignments/components of your work and contributions to the course.
- Human interest.
- Pitch letter/resume.
- Story behind the story.
Completing peer reviews and visiting office hours will improve work but not guarantee top grades. Finding your errors is your responsibility. There is no extra credit. Letter grades are based on:
- A. Excellent. Publishable with little or no revision. The concept being conveyed to an audience is clear, well organized and well conceived. The information is complete and in context. Only minor style, grammar errors.
- B. Good. Publishable with minor revision. The concept being conveyed to an audience is satisfactory and demonstrates a basic understanding of media principles. The information is well developed and contextual; limited style, grammar or mechanical errors.
- C. Average. Publishable with moderate revision, additional information gathering and/or copy editing. Meets minimum assignment requirements.
- D. Poor. Publishable only with substantial revision. Lacks focus, clarity, structure; incomplete information and context; significant style, grammar or mechanical errors; some basic assignment requirements missing.
- F. Failing. Unpublishable. Fact error(s). Fails basic assignment requirements.
Some of the best work produced in this course by previous students has ended up garnering national honors:
- 2015 Associated Collegiate Press honorable mention, sports story of the year
- 2017 Society for Features Journalism third place, best college features journalist (entry included multiple pieces)
- 2017 SPJ Mark of Excellence regional finalists in in-depth reporting and online-in-depth reporting.
Standards and expectations
Attendance/participation/discussion. Media professionals are expected to be on time, prepared and engaged, and so will be members of our class. Unless excused, failure to do so will lower your overall grade. Arrange to stay on track if you know you will be absent.
Deadlines. Just like media professionals, you will face frequent and firm deadlines. Late work, unless excused, is penalized one letter grade per weekday.
Fact errors. This is an upper-division course. As such, and to model the paramount importance of media accuracy, fact errors on final work result in an automatic 50% assignment grade reduction.
Academic integrity. Honesty and trust are bedrock media ethics and the foundation of this course. Per OU’s Faculty Handbook, academic misconduct includes:
- Cheating. “Use of unauthorized materials, methods or information in any academic exercise, including improper collaboration.”
- Plagiarism. “Representation of the words and ideas of another as one’s own.”
- Fabrication. “Falsification or invention of any information or citation in an academic exercise.”
- Fraud. “Falsification, forgery or misrepresentation of academic work, including the resubmission of work performed in one class for credit in another class.”
- Ignorance. “I did not know (transgression) was cheating” is not an excuse.
- Underestimate the seriousness of this at your peril. My bullshit detector is well developed from years of working as an editor, and I will routinely fact-check your work and call your sources. Any student guilty of these or other forms of dishonesty will get a zero on the assignment in question, possibly fail the class and likely be reported to OU’s Integrity Council.
Diversity. Great features are about people, and people are inherently diverse in their ethnicities and life experiences. An important component of great feature writing is to accurately encompass the full portrait of our subjects and both how they experience and are perceived by the world. This class includes components related to diversity, multiculturalism and inclusivity. You will be exposed to these ideas repeatedly, and we will discuss gender, race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, disabilities and other areas of difference as they relate to feature writing. Awareness of and willingness to understand these differences is a key step to being able to craft authentic and accurate features.
Special needs. Need to miss class for a religious holiday? Not a problem, just let me know. Need to adjust something about the class due to a pregnancy- or childbirth-related matter? Let’s make a new plan. Have any other issues that would potentially influence your performance? Please, notify me immediately. I will make every possible accommodation, including incorporating the services of the Disability Resource Center if beneficial, to give you the opportunity to succeed in this class.