Category Archives: teaching journalism

E.B. White on a writer’s responsibility

E.B. White

E.B. White

One of the great writers — a true craftsman — of the the 20th century, E.B. White, had this to say on the responsibility that writers have:

“A writer should concern himself with whatever absorbs his fancy, stirs his heart, and unlimbers his typewriter. I feel no obligation to deal with politics. I do feel a responsibility to society because of going into print: a writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.”

—E.B. White (1899-1985), writer, interviewed by George Plimpton and Frank H. Crowther, The Paris Review, 1969

Hat-tip to Ted Pease, Today’s Word on Journalism, at

In which I answer the question “What’s next?”, part 1

Mountain View UMC, watercolor

Mountain View UMC, watercolor

In about two weeks I will stand before my final class as a full time collegiate instructor and bid farewell to a 38-year teaching career.

When people find this out, there is an inevitable question, “What’s next?”, or a less efficient version, “What are you going to do?”

Not that there is a wildfire of burning interest about this topic out there. Most folks, I suspect, will shrug, and if they think anything at all, they will think, “Well, it’s about time.”

But just in case someone is the least curious, there is an efficient answer to “What are you going to do?” That answer is, “Pretty much what I am doing now.” With the following exceptions:

  • Driving on Alcoa Highway an hour or more a day.
  • Preparing courses for next semester.
  • Wondering whether or not students are paying attention in class.
  • Dealing with the university’s administrative absurdities.
  • Evaluating student work — and being both disappointed and elated.
  • Worrying about students meeting their deadlines.

That gives the dear reader a flavor of the exceptions to “pretty much what I am doing now.” But what am I doing now?

That will be for later posts.

Happy birthday,

Wiley Hall, Emory and Henry College, Emory, Va. Emory is the birthplace of

Wiley Hall, Emory and Henry College, Emory, Va. Emory is the birthplace of celebrates its ninth birthday today.

The site began as an experimental website on Dec. 31, 2004 and was launched from the study of the little house we were living in at the time in Emory, Va.

Who knew then that I would be adding to the site nearly a decade later from my study in Maryville, Tenn., using an entirely different content management system (WordPress) and contemplating a variety of forms and formats for the coming year.

The image I had for during those first weeks was as a giant filing cabinet for information and resources I was gathering about journalism education and how to teach journalism. Journalism: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How had just been published by Allyn and Bacon, and I thought there might be a second edition at some point. I wanted a place to put all the stuff I was pulling together (much of it from my own files of more than 25 years of teaching journalism). gave me the perfect opportunity to do that and at the same time share it with others who had a need or an interest.

The site’s content and reach have broadened since then, but its purpose remains the same.

I am gratified that so many people have found this site useful and that they have been kind enough to write me about it.

Much more could be said about, but at this point that seems self-indulgent.

So, amid the other celebrations that are happening today, raise a small glass to JPROF.

Writing good tags should be part of the journalist’s writing process

Tags are words or phrases that are related to a story. As the writer is composing the story, he or she should consider the words and phrases that a potential reader might use in a search engine to search for information on that topic. Those words and phrases can then be listed at the end of the story as tags.

Most content management systems (the software that supports and operates news websites and weblogs) have designated functions that allow writers and editors to list tags. And many web journalists today have gotten into the bad habit of ignoring that function. To ignore tags, however, is to miss out on a golden opportunity for a journalist or a news website to build an audience. Tags are part of the search engine optimization concept referred to earlier in this chapter.

At minimum, tags should include

  • all of the proper names and places referred to in your story;
  • major ideas and concepts of the subject of the story:
  • important actions and processes referred to in the story.

One technique for developing good tags is to pay attention to the way that you search for information and the way that your friends search for information. Think about how you would search for information on the topic on which you are reporting. That’s the place to start understanding tags.

Developing good tags gets easier with practice. The writer should think about tags as the writing is being done, not after it has been completed. If that happens, tags become an integral part of the writing process.

Note: A version of this essay will appear in the ninth edition of Writing for the Mass Media, which will be published in the summer of 2014 by Allyn and Bacon.

How we got the First Amendment (video)

How did we get the First Amendment? from Jim Stovall on Vimeo.

University of Tennessee professor Dwight Teeter talks about how the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution came about.

Other discussions of the First Amendment on

Discussion questions for you and your students

  1. Does anything that Dr. Teeter says about the First Amendment surprise you?
  2. Many people have said the First Amendment is the first one in the Constitution because it is the most important. What does Dr. Teeter say about that?
  3. Why were the freedoms protected by the First Amendment not included in the original draft of the U.S. Constitution?
  4. Who were the Anti-Federalists? Can you name any of them?


The web imposes new responsibilities on journalists

The web has imposed new responsibilities on the journalist – responsibilities that go far beyond those of the traditional print or broadcast reporter.

Web journalists must report and write original information, just as traditional journalists do. They have the additional responsibility of finding the best information about the topic that is already available on the web and presenting that information through links. That process is sometimes called curating information.

Competence in using all of the tools of the journalist – text, pictures, audio and video – is another responsibility of the web journalist. And with knowledge of the hardware and software available for reporting must also come an understanding of when these tools are best used to present the information that the reporter has gathered. The choice of tools of reporting has many aspects, not the least of which that the reporter often choose the tool he or she is most comfortable and most confident in using.

Web journalists must also work with speed. The web is an immediate medium, DF-ST-99-05401ready to disseminate information as quickly as it is prepared. Reporters often find themselves in increasingly competitive situations where a few minutes or even a few seconds will mean the difference between having an audiences and not having one.

Once information is posted, journalists must be willing to promote their material so that those who are interested in it know that it is available and have some incentive for finding it. As they get better and more experienced, reporters should have an increasing and committed audience for what they do.

Finally, reporters should be willing to engage their audience. The interactivity of the web, referred to earlier in this chapter, allows audience members to be participants in the conversation that is generated by a reporter’s efforts. The reporter, in a real sense, has a responsibility to join in and even lead that conversation.

All of these responsibilities make the life of the reporter more interesting, complex and demanding. They give journalists an important part in generating and supporting the public conversation that is vital to a democratic society.

A version of this essay will appear in the ninth edition of Writing for the Mass Media. The new edition will be in print during the summer of 2014.


Creating an interactive chart with Google Spreadsheets (video)

The software and the process for building a chart and embedding it into a website are no longer mysterious, complicated or expensive.

And you should be having your students use it.

The software is Google spreadsheets. The process is as simple as entering the data into the spreadsheet and creating a chart with a few simple clicks. Google spreadsheets give you an embed code that allows you to place the chart onto a web page. That chart is interactive.

And all this is free.

The video below shows you how to do it.


Building a graph with Google spreadsheets from Jim Stovall on Vimeo.

And here is the chart that was made in the video.

As you can see the chart is interactive. That is, when you roll your mouse over any part of it, the numbers pop up. (The embed code for this chart is included below the chart just so you can see what it looks like.)


<iframe src=”;single=true&amp;gid=1&amp;output=html&amp;widget=true” height=”400″ width=”600″ frameborder=”1″></iframe>

The sliderule analogy

Pocket_slide_ruleIn my quest to get high school journalism teachers (an a few of my colleagues at the collegiate level) to stop concentrating on print journalism and start teaching online journalism, I have lately been using the following analogy:

Teaching journalism with only a newspaper is like teaching math with only a slide rule.

It’s a great analogy — nearly perfect in comparing mathematics and journalism.

The problem is that no one knows what a slide rule is.

That hit me the other day when I was in Nashville, holding a couple of sessions for the Tennessee High School Journalism Association fall workshop at David Lipscomb University. I used that analogy in one session, and the group on eager faces, rather than being dazzled by the brilliance of the analogy, stared at me in silence. They admitted readily that they had no idea what I was talking about.

And these weren’t just the students. The adults in the room, the teachers, said the same thing.

In the days before the hand-held calculator, the slide rule — also known as a slipstick — was a valuable tool in making many kinds of calculations. (You can read a lot more about slide rules by Googling the term.)

But that was then, and this is now. I’ll need to rethink the use of this analogy.


And here’s a video in which I use the analogy:

Why Online Journalism from Jim Stovall on Vimeo.

Going online: What I tell high school teachers and students

When I am talking to high school journalism workshops and groups these days, I try work in the following points about what it means to work online:

A news website gives scholastic journalists the opportunity to do something they’ve never done — practice “daily journalism.”

They would have to think about the news constantly. “What happened at your school today? What happened yesterday? What will happen tomorrow?” he said.

Finally, I tell them:

  • pay attention to the basics of journalistic writing: accuracy, clarity, precision and efficiency
  • think about the audience: “Always think about the audience. What is it they want to see on your site?”
  • post something new on their news website everyday

This fall, I have spoke to workshops in Chapel Hill, N.C., Knoxville, Tenn., and Nashville, Tenn..

Teaching AP style: some high school teachers weigh in

What’s your approach to teaching AP style?

There are lots of ways to do it. The suggestions below come from a discussion about that topic on the Journalism Education Association listserv in August. Each of these entries is used with the kind permission of the authors.

Vicki Brennan, MA, CJE

Miami-Dade County, Fla., teacher (retired)
I pick out the parts that students really need to make their publications more professional, so I hit hard on the rules about numbers, dates, time, sports scores, apostrophe use, capitalization, hyphenation and basic grammar, such as people are “who” not “that”.  Going letter-by-letter is going to give them a lot of rules they don’t use much and delay the teaching of some very important ones that they should be using all the time.

Bryan Halpern

Glenbrook North High School
Northbrook, IL
I grab the most used sections of the stylebook, put the students in groups, assign each group a set of rules and then give them the task of teaching the rest of the class about their assigned rules. They do everything from conventional power point presentations and handouts to creating songs, raps or poems about their rules. The songs are great fun, and if annoying enough, stick in the kids’ heads so they can access them from memory when needed. Also, keeping a set of Stylebooks around is a nice resource.

C. E. Sikkenga

I used to do the quizzes and exercises and stuff.  I found that the kids hated them, I hated them and they really didn’t make us that much better. This may just be a reflection of my  personal style and the way it rubs off on my kids, but the traditional approach didn’t work well for me.

I did them all in my journalism classes too–but even after a quarter century of using AP Style, I really don’t remember all the rules myself. Just the really common ones and as I get older and my hard drive has filled up with more stuff, I forget some of those too. Two summers ago, I did an internship at our local paper and found that I don’t really need to memorize style rules–so long as I am smart and fast at looking them up when I need to.  WIth that in mind, in my intro class, I have a basic list of 30 sentences with either one, two or zero errors.  Every student must fix every one correctly before they can be done with that exercise.  It is open book.  Drives them nuts, but eventually they learn to just look everything up and how to use the style book.

Once they make it to the publication class, I tape a one-page list of the most common style issues next to every work station for quick reference. (I use the most excellent one that was posted here a couple years back). There’s also a full AP Stylebook within arm’s reach of any station. Beyond that, if anybody ever asks me a style question (or if I hear them asking anybody else) I just reply with “What does the style book say?”  By the end of the first trimester, most of them get it and it is not too much of an issue–at least with the basics.  If a crazy one pops up, I can help any kid through that one on one.  If something more basic is consistently an issue with many kids, then I’ll work in an impromptu lesson as needed.

I find that this approach frees up class time to use on more interesting things like storytelling or other cool conceptual stuff.

Catherine Podolak

Wyoming Valley West High School
Plymouth, PA
I do AP stylebook once a week where I type up the rules that my students will encounter on a pretty regular basis. I do A-C, D-G, etc. and then I type up exercises where they have to circle the AP error and write out the corrections. They must also keep each handout in a folder. Once we cover the letters, they get points deducted from their articles if the AP errors appear. It works for me.

David Bailey

Lincoln High School
Portland, OR
I have students write the rules, based on AP style, by giving them a series of sentences in categories (times, dates, quotes, etc.) that illustrate correct and incorrect usage. Example: “The dance will begin at 8 p.m.” NOT “The dance will begin at 8pm.” Now write the rule.

I also blow up to poster size the style issues that are most nettlesome and put reduced versions of same next to each computer.

(All of these entries were used by permission, and I thank each of the teachers for them.)
And here’s what adherence to style brings to your writing:

Coming Fall 2013: iBooks on your Mac

Apple’s new operating system, OS X Mavericks, will be available this fall with some stunning new features. One of those is that it will let you read and operate your multimedia iBooks on the Macintosh.

For those of us who produce multimedia books with iBooks Author, the implications and possibilities are huge.

What it means simple is that the books we produce, such as those in the Tennessee Journalism Series, are no longer confined to the iPad. Students who have Macs will also be able to buy and use these books. Here’s what they will look like (a screenshot from the Apple website):

An iBook on the Mac will let students expand it so that the notes the student has made can appear along side the page. The notes themselves will be searchable.

  • Students will be able to use their keyboards to make notes.
  • They will be able to open more than one book at a time.
  • All of the books bought from the iBookstore will be pushed to iCloud and be available on any OS device the student has. They will be synced so that the book will appear on a second device where the student left it on the first device.

Apple debuted this new operating system at the recently concluded World Wide Apple Developers Conference in San Francisco. Developers also showed off some improvements in iBooks Author.

Stay tuned.



Chicago Sun-Times fires its photojournalists

Word is circulating through journalism circles this morning that the Chicago Sun-Times has just laid off its entire photojournalist staff — about 30 people.

Here are some links: National Public Radio, Chicago Tribune, USA Today.

A fellow journalism educator at another university said he wasn’t surprised and that last year he had begun requiring his reporting students to learn how to use a camera.

Last year?

We’ve been doing that for about six years at the University of Tennessee.

Check out some of the photojournalism resources on JPROF.

Tennessee Journalism Series: Photojournalism: Telling Stories with Pictures and Words

Photojournalism: Telling Stories with Pictures and Words

James Glen Stovall

Michael Martinez

Even in the digital age with its pervasive video, the news photograph – the single still image – retains its power to embed itself in our heads.

Photojournalism Book CoverBecause of that, photojournalism and the photojournalist are important parts of the field of journalism. Training people to understand the power of the photograph and think like a photojournalist is vital to journalism education.

That’s what this book does. Photojournalism: Telling Stories with Pictures and Words is aimed at young people who want to use a camera to show the world to others.

This book introduces students to the basic principles of photojournalism and to concepts such as the rule-of-thirds, cropping and editing, the value of the close-up, and the talent of seeing what other people do not see.

CreateSpace eStore:




Tennessee Journalism Series: Writing Like a Journalist

Writing Like a Journalist

by James Glen Stovall

Good writing is at the heart of journalism.

Journalists write for a living. They use words precisely and efficiently. They present accurate, verified information in a way that a mass audience will understand it by reading or hearing it only once.

Such writing takes skill, discipline and practice.

Writing Like a Journalist will give the reader some of the basic concepts of how journalists achieve good writing — writing that an audience can understand and will pay for.

Chapters topics in this volume include:
• The discipline of good writing
• Mastering the language
• Tools of writing: Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling
• Why journalistic writing is different
• The inverted pyramid structure
• Headlines
• Writing for audio and visual journalism

The book also contains a bonus chapter on the First Amendment with sections on each of the five freedoms protected by the amendment and a section on the history and development of the amendment.

The many multimedia and interactive elements in this book include writing tips by Roy Peter Clark, video comments by First Amendment historian Dwight Teeter, and review quizzes in many of the chapters.

Writing Like a Journalist is available in the following formats


Paperback on


Tennessee Journalism Series: Going Online

Going Online

by James Glen Stovall & Margaret Cate Grigsby

High school journalism students, most of them in most places, are learning the journalism of the past. They need to be learning the journalism of the 21st century.

Going Online is a book that will help students look into the future.

What it will show them is not a dying profession but one that has a bright future and is full of promise and opportunities.

Using the system built by ISONN, Going Online gives step-by-step instructions on how to build and maintain a news website for any group of high school students. It also explains, in lively and expert langauge, the thinking behind many of the new concepts and practices that young journalists must experience in this brave new world.

In Going Online, you’ll find sections on
— building and managing a news website for your students
— writing for the web
— photojournalism
— building an audio slideshow
— using audio and video to enhance your website
— how to think about design (it’s not what you think)
— most importantly, how to prepare for a future in online journalism

That’s what makes Going Online an important books for the future of your journalism students.

And, as with all of the books in the Tennessee Journalism Series, Going Online contains a bonus chapter on the First Amendment, including the freedoms it protects, the history of the amendment, and the importance it has to today’s society.


Tennessee Journalism Series: Feature Writing

Feature Writing

Lisa Byerley Gary

The idea of being able to tell a story — especially someone else’s story — captures the imagination of many students and would-be journalists.

And that’s what feature writing is — telling someone else’s story.

But feature writing also means reporting and writing like a journalist. Feature writers must gather information and sift through that information, finding just the right set of facts and words to convey their stories accurately and clearly.

Feature Writing presents the basic concepts and techniques of feature writing for students who want to explore this vital part of journalism. It is brief and designed to be highly accessible to the beginning student.

The book also contains a bonus chapter on the First Amendment.

The author is Lisa Byerley Gary, a professional writer, former newspaper editor, and lecturer in the School of Journalism and Electronic Media at the University of Tennessee.





Tennessee Journalism Series: The Devil and His Due

The Devil and His Due

James Gordon Bennett, the Penny Press, and the Beginnings of Modern Journalism

by Dwight L. Teeter

The Devil and His Due, Penny Press iBook cover imageHe looked demonic with his disconcerting glare. He was afflicted with extreme strabismus, resulting in wildly crossed eyes.

But despite his appearance, James Gordon Bennett succeeded mightily in journalism and in communication innovation. He came to be hated for his combativeness, for his journalistic sensationalism, and for his disdain for mid-19th century moral standards, but he set the pace toward modern media.

James Gordon Bennett symbolizes the most important era of modern journalism history: the Penny Press.

Many of the things that happened first during the Penny Press era have become the staples of today’s journalism: the dominance of non-partisan news; the emphasis on speed; new areas of reporting, including sports reporting; an expansion of readership to include working classes.

The list could go on. Much that is on that list began with James Gordon Bennett.

Bennett, a 27-year-old Scotsman with a university education in economics, arrived in the United States in 1822. He failed in repeated journalistic ventures in the U.S. before founding the New York Herald in 1835. Within six years, however, he rode the crest of the development of penny newspapers to wealth and power, becoming a leading editor of his time.  Bennett didn’t invent the penny press, but his success with the Herald made him a captain of the emerging newspaper industry.

This book takes up the context of the Penny Press facing Bennett in the 1830s and 1840s, considers the 21st century buzzword “media convergence” with a 19th century spin, and looks at some of Bennett’s enduring innovations—and those of a despised competitor, the even-more-famous Horace Greeley, who started his New York Tribune in 1841.

In this book, you’ll read about

• Benjamin Day and the Sun
• James Gordon Bennett and the Herald
• Horace Greeley and the Tribune
• The Nineteenth Century version of convergence

The book also contains a bonus chapter on the First Amendment.

The book can be found on the iBookstore here:

Tennessee Journalism Series

The Tennessee Journalism Series is a set of texts and instructional material developed by the faculty of the University of Tennessee School of Journalism and Electronic Media for journalism and instructors around the world. The idea behind the series is “multimedia first.” That is, these books are built for the iPad and contain a variety of multimedia elements: text, audio, video, photo galleries, interactive images, and interactive reviews and quizzes.

As of April 2013, 10 books are available on the iBooks Store for downloading to an iPad (read more about each by clicking on the titles):

Introduction to
An Introduction
Photojournalism Media Reporting
Intro to Journalism Book Cover Reporting: An Introduction Book Cover Photojournalism Book Cover Media Reporting iPad Cover
The First
Writing Like a
Going Online Feature Writing
The First Amendment Book Cover Writing Like a Journalist Book Cover Going Online Book Cover Feature Writing iPad Cover Image
The Devil and
His Due
Seeing Suffrage
The Devil and His Due, Penny Press iBook cover image Seeing Suffrage Book Cover

Kindle and print versions of these books are also available, but they, of course, do not contain all of the multimedia elements found in the iPad versions. These versions do have links to some of the multimedia elements that can be found on the web.

Other books under development include texts on sports journalism, audio journalism and video journalism. Various aspects of the history of journalism and journalism ethics will also appear as titles in this series.

Tennessee Journalism Series: The First Amendment

The First Amendment

James Glen Stovall

Dwight L. Teeter

The First Amendment introduces students to the freedoms included in the First Amendment of the United State Constitution.

These five freedoms are religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.

The First Amendment is an introductory text that gives students basic information about one of the most important documents in the world.





Tennessee Journalism Series: Media Reporting

Media Reporting: Principles and Practices of Journalism in a Multimedia World

James Glen Stovall

Central to the act of journalism is the act of reporting. Journalism cannot exist without reporting, without reporters who are willing to dig up information in all sorts of unlikely places and from all sorts of unlikely people. Nothing matters in journalism without reporting.

That’s why Media Reporting: Principles and Practices of Journalism in a Multimedia World was written. Students who have an interest in journalism should — must — understand that good reporting is the core. Intelligent, insightful, efficient gathering of information. Information that is original, relevant, important and useful.

Journalism doesn’t exist without it.

So a reporter must sell the source on the importance of what the reporter is doing.

None of that is easy.

But reporting, hard as it is, can also be fun and exciting. It can take a young person to places he or she would never see otherwise. It can put the reporter in touch with the most interesting people on earth. It gives the reporter a front-row seat on the human condition.

It’s not always a pretty picture, but it is almost inevitably interesting and enlightening.