MC102: Lecture 1 Introduction

Welcome to MC 102, Writing for the Mass Media.

This course is designed to teach you some of the techniques of good writing in a professional media environment. It also introduces you to the major forms of writing for the mass media.

In this section you will learn a little more about the course content and the procedures for the course..

The points that we want to emphasize this week are that:

  • Writing is central to all of the media industries.
  • The major purpose of writing for the mass media is to present information.
  • Writing for the mass media should be accuracte, complete, efficient and precise.
  • Attendance is extremely important in this course.

Readings for this week

Read Chapter 1 of Writing for the Mass Media. Make sure you understand all of the concepts and practices discussed there.
Reading room

The American Dialect Society has chosen the words of the year (1999), decade (1990s), century (1900s) and millennium. Find out what they are.

Mark Twain on James Fenimore Cooper. If you enjoy reading the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, you might change your mind after reading Mark Twain devastating critique of Cooper’s work. Take a look at how one of America’s literary giants goes after another one.

Lasting value. One of the reasons that documents have lasting value is that they express strong ideas and are written well. Look at the Declaration of Independence. It begins with, “When in the course of human events . . .” and contains phrases such as “all men are created equal” and “they are endowed with certain inalienable rights” and “among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We remember those phrases because their ideas but also because they are simply written. Two of the best written documents from American history are Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis. The Gettysburg Address is only 272 words, but it contains ideas that continue to affect us today. When you read the work of Thomas Paine, note the simplicity and power of the language. Then there is Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural address. The nation was in the depth of an economic depression, and FDR needed to say something reassuring. He chose just the right, simple few words: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Welcome to MC 102.

This course is about writing — first and foremost, how to write well in a professional environment. Secondly, it’s about how learning how to write in the major forms of writing for various mass media.

This course is important — possibly one of the most important that you will take. Why?

  • Writing is central to all media industries.
  • Writing is the mark of a well educated person.
  • Writing is a powerful activity. The ability to control and articulate ideas and information gives you power over what other people know and think about.

What’s different?

“But I’ve had English 101 and 102. Why do I need this course?”

a typical student

This course is different from all other writing course that you have had in two important ways:

First, we emphasize information. The major purpose of writing for the mass media is to present information.

Second, one of the purposes of this course is to teach you how to write in a professional environment. That is, we want you to understand what the demands of professionalism are and what you will need to meet those demands.

Third, writing in a media environment usually means writing for a mass audience. Chances are, a lot of people are going to read or hear or see what you write (not just your English professor). Understanding that audience is a big part of learning to write for the mass media.

Finally, there is the concept of modesty. By that we mean that good writing for the mass media puts the writer in the background and emphasizes instead the content of the writing. An audience doesn’t care what you think or how you feel about what you are writing. The audience wants information, and it wants that information presented accurately, completely, efficiently and precisely.

Four characterictics of media writing

And those are the four characteristics of media writing

  • accuracy
  • completeness
  • efficiency
  • precision

Accuracy is the chief requirment of a writer for the mass media. This is not just a journalist’s requirement. All writers are expected to present informaiton accurately and to take some pains in doing so. Many of the procedures for writing for the mass media are set up to ensure accuracy.

Completeness means that you should present your information in a context so that it can be easily understood by a mass audience. It should be clear and coherent. Your writing should answer all of the questions that could be expected by the audience. (Not all of the questions that could be asked, but all those that it takes to understand the information.)

Efficiency is one of the most prized writing characteristics. Efficiency means using the fewest words to present you information accurately and clearly. Efficiency is difficult to achieve because

  • most of us write inefficiently, especially on first draft
  • most of use do not do a good job in editing our writing
  • the world is filled with inefficient writing, and we often fall victim to it.

Precision means that as a writer, you take special care with the language. You know good grammar and practice it. You use words for precisely what they mean. You develop a love for the language.

As a developing professional, you should strive to make your writing

  • satisfactory, to your audience and to you as a writer
  • engaging, so that the audience will stop, attend
  • powerful, so you can make a difference in the lives of your readers and listeners

 

About this course

As an MC102 student, you are required to attend the Monday morning lecture and a writing lab that meets twice a week. Attendance at both are extremely important to your success in this course.

In the lecture, you are expected to be an active listener. Questions and comments are welcome at any time, but chances are that you are not going to say much. Still, you should listen closely, take notes and participate in other ways when asked.

Rules of civil behavior that we observe in lecture include

  • if I am talking, you should listen; if you start talking, I will stop and listen
  • sleeping and reading a newspaper are rude behaviors that will not be tolerated
  • if you cannot avoid being late, come in the back door of the lecture hall
  • don’t pack up to leave before the lecture is finished

Attendance

Attendance is an important part of this course. Part of becoming a professional — which begins with this course — is regular and dependable attendance. Students who do not attend will find they get very little sympathy from lab instructors or the professor. More students fail the course for lack of attendance than for any other reason.

Here are the rules:

Four absences in the lecture and/or eight absences in lab means that the lab instructors will stop grading your work. You will have missed to much to pass the course.

If you arrive in lecture after the news quiz, you will not be counted as present.

Missed assignments and quizzes cannot be made up. Legitimate reasons, such as illness and emergency, exist for missing class. To compensate for students who miss labs for these reasons, lab instructors will drop some of the lowest grades (usually about two days’ worth) at the end of the semester.

There are no “excused” absences from MC102 lecture or labs.

Finally . . .

That’s most of the necessary stuff. Let’s have a good semester.

 

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Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.

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