JMC 3023: Trend assignment

Goal

Provide a better understanding of an important or notable phenomenon.

Key dates

  • Monday, Nov. 16: Launch + be familiar with reading list
  • Wednesday, Nov. 18: Individual story-selection and pre-reporting conferences
  • Monday, Nov. 23: Trend work day
  • Monday, Nov. 30: Trend work day
  • Wednesday, Dec. 9: Draft shared in Google Drive; peer-review day
  • Wednesday, Dec. 16: Final version turned in by 11:59 p.m.

Reading list

For each style of feature I will ask you to complete I will provide some examples that we can discuss in class to help jog your creative muscles and that you can refer to for inspiration while you work on yours. Please read, listen or watch at least three of them — some by the pros, some by the students — before we launch each segment.

The assignment

A trend piece, in the words of a previous instructor of this course, provides specific, anecdotal examples of a broader topic with inherent news value. The objective is to find one or more colorful and informative microcosms that help readers better understand an important trend, event, study, statistic or other notable phenomenon in the news. The story will require a combination of extensive authoritative and anecdotal source material. Multiple sources are required

You will

  • Write a 1,000-word (digital) or 4-minute package (broadcast) piece that…
  • Appeals to an audience on an explanatory level…
  • Is fully-developed in examining the subject in depth via research and at least three sources (more may be necessary to be successful)…
  • And is relatable to a clearly defined audience.

Rubric (250 points total)

  • Topic | 50 percent
    • Clearly appeals to an audience on an explanatory level
    • Is explored in significant depth via research and at least three sources (more may be necessary to be successful)
    • Is relatable to a broad audience
  • Writing | 50 percent
    • Meets the word-count or script-length minimum
    • Uses clear, conversational language
    • Fully examines the subject
  • Deductions
    • Fact errors: -50 percent
    • Spelling: -10 points
    • Grammar, punctuation, AP style: -1 point each

JMC 3023: Pitch letter, résumé assignment

Key dates

  • Monday, Oct. 26: Launch
  • Monday, Nov. 16: Draft of both due via email
  • Monday, Nov. 30: Final version of both due via email

The assignment

Pretty straight forward. Because we want this class to have real-world applications, this assignment is simply your résumé — once in draft form, once in final form — along with a three-paragraph pitch email that explains why a publication should be interested in one of the pieces you’re writing in this class. I like Jason Fagone’s advice on the pitch email and recommend you follow it. If you’d like one example of a résumé, here’s mine.

Three short paragraphs will do it.

First paragraph: Hi, I’m so and so, and I have an idea I think would work well for you.

Second paragraph: Here is the idea, briefly, and here is why I am the appropriate person to write it.

Third paragraph: I’m happy to tell you more if the idea intrigues you. A bit more about me: [links to clips, or in the absence of clips, a tiny bio].

(After I posted this, I asked for editors to weigh in on Twitter, and a few made this important point: these three paragraphs should convey that you’ve read the publication you’re pitching and that you know what sorts of stories they need. The pitch has to be tailored to them. Editors don’t like it if they sense that the idea is generic and could be pitched anywhere. As an editor from Slate put it, the pitch should “include a real sense that you understand how the piece would fit into MY magazine and not some other magazine.”)

Rubric (250 points total)

  • Résumé | 50 percent
    • One page, written for media jobs
    • Reverse chronological timeline
    • Include work experience, education, honors and references
  • Pitch email| 50 percent
    • 500-word maximum
    • Uses clear, conversational language
    • Demonstrates knowledge, understanding of target publication
  • Deductions
    • Fact errors: -50 percent
    • Spelling: -10 points
    • Grammar, punctuation, AP style: -1 point each

JMC 3023: Human interest assignment

Goal

Describe a real adventure, experience, project, crisis or quest involving people.

Key dates

  • Monday, Oct. 19: Launch + be familiar with reading list
  • Wednesday, Oct. 21: Individual story-selection and pre-reporting conferences
  • Monday, Nov. 2: Draft posted to Google Drive; peer-review day
  • Wednesday, Nov. 4: Individual mid-point story conferences
  • Wednesday, Nov. 11: Final version turned in

Reading list

For each style of feature I will ask you to complete I will provide some examples that we can discuss in class to help jog your creative muscles and that you can refer to for inspiration while you work on yours. Please read, listen or watch at least three of them — some by the pros, some by the students — before we launch each segment.

The assignment

A human-interest piece, in the words of a previous instructor of this course, describes a real adventure, experience, project, crisis or quest involving people. For our purposes, narrow your focus to a central character or small group of people working together. Also, consider using a narrative story-telling format grounded in a specific time and place and proceeding chronologically.

You will

  • Write a 1,000-word (digital) or 4-minute package (broadcast) piece that…
  • Appeals to an audience on an emotional and/or dramatic level…
  • Is fully-developed in examining the subject in depth via research and at least three sources (more may be necessary to be successful)…
  • And is relatable to a clearly defined audience.

Rubric (250 points total)

  • Topic | 50 percent
    • Clearly appeals to an audience on an emotional and/or dramatic level
    • Is explored in significant depth via research and at least three sources (more may be necessary to be successful)
    • Is relatable to a broad audience
  • Writing | 50 percent
    • Meets the word-count or script-length minimum
    • Uses clear, conversational language
    • Fully examines the subject
  • Deductions
    • Fact errors: -50 percent
    • Spelling: -10 points
    • Grammar, punctuation, AP style: -1 point each

JMC 3023: Q&A assignment

Goal

Capture a compelling conversation and storyline in lieu of a full-blown story.

Key dates

  • Monday, Sept. 28: Launch + be familiar with reading list + start interviews
  • Monday, Oct. 5: Final version turned in. (no peer review)

Reading list

For each style of feature I will ask you to complete I will provide some examples that we can discuss in class to help jog your creative muscles and that you can refer to for inspiration while you work on yours. Please read, listen or watch at least three of them — some by the pros, some by the students — before we launch each segment.

The assignment

Great features depend on great interviews, which are conversations with a purpose yet still open to unexpected possibilities. A well-done Q&A captures a compelling conversation and storyline with a person in lieu of a full-blown story.

You will

  • Record a 7-10 minute podcast that…
  • Introduces the person as well as the subject of the conversation along with why that’s a compelling angle now…
  • Encapsulates at least eight question/answer exchanges that move readers through the conversation in an engaging way…
  • And is relatable to a clearly defined audience.

You will not

  • Regurgitate a transcript of the interview with all the boring parts.

Rubric (250 points total)

  • Interview | 50 percent
    • Finds a compelling line or lines of conversation with the subject
    • Is explored in significant depth to explain while also providing a sense of the person’s character and style
    • Is relatable to a broad audience
  • Writing | 50 percent
    • Meets a 7-10 minute duration in podcast form
    • Uses clear, open-ended questions
    • Tells a story within the arc of conversation
    • Does not regurgitate a transcript of the interview
  • Deductions
    • Fact errors: -50 percent

JMC 3023: Syllabus

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, sir or anything else.)
When/where we meet: 11:15 a.m.-1:05 p.m. Monday, Wednesday in Gaylord 1030
Office hours: By appointment, Copeland 168A (inside The Oklahoma Daily)
Contact: sethprince@ou.edu, @seth_prince, 405.325.6334


OVERVIEW

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. You will experiment with audio. 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/format 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 upload to Canvas. 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 or off-campus outlets. We also will explore audio-driven work in the vein of podcasts.


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. Want to make a podcast? I’d love to see us experiment with that. 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.

  1. Participation.
  2. Essay.
  3. Q&A.
  4. Profile/Obituary.
  5. Human interest.
  6. Trend.
  7. Pitch letter/resume.
  8. 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:


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 races, 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 Accessibility and Disability Resource Center if beneficial, to give you the opportunity to succeed in this class.