The course for which Writing for the Mass Media was written is often described as a mile broad and an inch deep. If you are convinced of the need to allow students to sample the skills involved in distinct forms of the media, to participate in exercises whereby students can understand how each skill relates to all media, and to gain a measure of their competence in other media professions, then an introductory writing course must be part of your curriculum.
Two important concepts should guide your teaching of this course.
- First you must teach those things that make each form of the media distinct.
- Second, you must emphasize the commonalities that all media share.
Each medium presents distinct formats and forms that all professionals should appreciate. One goal of this book is to give our students that appreciation. That is tough to do if the students are allowed to feel that understanding each form as distinct means that one form has no relevance to the others.
Good writing in all forms is easily recognizable. Achieving mastery in writing depends upon the willingness of the student to learn. But student attitude alone is never sufficient. Just as the techniques of good writing can be learned through diligence and application, there is a corollary emphasis on the techniques of teaching those skills. Teaching writing takes skill, patience, intelligence, and hard work. Much of the material included here is drawn from two decades of experience teaching writing courses and in conducting writing workshops for professional groups.
If you have any comments, suggestions or corrections, please let us hear from you. Contact me directly by writing to Department of Mass Communication, Box 947, Emory and Henry College, Emory, VA 24327, or through my email address, jstovall at ehc.edu. I am always interested in your comments about this web site, the text itself, and the way you tackle the difficult business of teaching writing.
Courses using Writing for the Mass Media
Writing for the Mass Media has been used in many courses, schools and universities during its publication life. The following are links to a few of those courses.
Bethel University, Writing for the Media (COM 352), Scott Sochay
University of the Cumberlands, Writing for the Mass Media(COMM 336), Jeremiah Massengale
University of South Carolina, Mass Media Writing, Hugh Munn
University of Maine, Writing for the Mass Media, Sunny Hughes
George Mason University, Writing for the Mass Media, Paul Westpheling
Emory and Henry College, Writing for the Media (COM201), Jim Stovall
The course that I teach at the University of Tennessee (as this web site is being built) is JEM 200 Introduction to news writing. The link will take you to the course web site on JPROF.com, where you will find a variety of material. Among those items are weekly lecture notes that follow up many of the chapters in the book. The course does not include much about writing for public relations or writing advertising copy.
A course that did cover all of the chapters of the last editions of the book was Mass Communications 102 Introduction to media writing, a course I taught at the University of Alabama for a number of years. That course is no longer offered (and I am no longer at Alabama), but I have preserved the web site on JPROF.com, and it can be found at this location. Instructors are welcome to use any of the material that they find on the JPROF sites.
This section contains a number of ideas for classroom activities and discussion starters that may help in making the points about journalism with your students. We are always looking to add to this section so if you’ve done something that works — or thought of something you’d like to try — share it with us.
Grading writing assignments. For quite a number of years I taught the introductory writing course at the University of Alabama, the infamous Mass Communication 102. I worked with seven or eight graduate teaching assistants each semester, and in our weekly meetings we talked a lot about grading. This memo (which is located on JPROF.com) to them grew out of those discussions several years ago. It outlines some of the considerations writing teachers should give when awarding grades.
Teaching online journalism resources. Mindy McAdams, who is quickly reaching the status of a guru of online journalism, has put together anexceptional list of teaching resources for those who want to conduct courses or units on online journalism. She did this for the Online Journalism Review.
Writing with verbs. Most good writing teachers stress the power and importance of verbs – often to skeptical students. Verbs are the engines of the language and have far more descriptive power than adjectives or adverbs. That’s where the skepticism comes in. Students interested in writing develop a belief that using good adjectives and adverbs will enhance their writing. Verbs are simply aids in the process. Here’s an exercise that you can do with your students that might turn their thinking around.
This exercise only a takes a few minutes and can be a lot of fun. (More at JPROF.com)
Note: Roy Peter Clark has a good article on the Poynter web site aboutwriting with verbs.
Attacking wordiness. Most of the editing students I have taught over the last three decades share this trait: they are reluctant to change anything in an editing exercise, even when it is obviously wrong. Getting them to where they will correct grammar, spelling and style errors in the first step. But to be good editors, of course, they must go far beyond this. They must learn to recognize and attacking wordiness – the heart disease of good writing. Here are some lecture/discussion notes about what to tell editing students about wordiness – how to recognize the symptoms and cure the disease.
Notes on accuracy. The first lesson that beginning journalism students should learn is they are obligated to present accurate information to their audience. Many of the procedures of journalism are directed toward achieving accuracy. Editing students need to be reminded of this goal, too. It is the editor’s job to ensure accuracy. This web site contains a set lecture/discussion notes that I use for my editing class when talking with them about accuracy and how to achieve it.
An additional note: John Early McIntyre, assistant managing editor for the copydesk at the Baltimore Sun, has an excellent piece on the Poynter web site about the importance of editing. In it, he cites a 2003 conference on Editing for the Future held at the First Amendment Center in Nashville. The web site for the conference contains many resources for those interested in editing, including a session devoted to accuracy. That session was led by Margaret Holt, customer service editor of the Chicago Tribune. During her presentation (which can be viewed on video at the site), she told the story of the time when the Tribune got serious about guarding against inaccuracies:
Since 1992 the Chicago Tribune has hired a proofreader to do an errors-per-page annual report, so the newsroom can track errors from year to year. “We were abysmal starting out,” she said. “I think we were as high as 4.82 errors per page.”
However, the Tribune’s accuracy program kicked into high gear in 1995 when it suffered an accuracy “meltdown.” A senior writer misidentified a top Tribune executive in an obituary of a beloved editor. That executive was “not happy,” Holt said. The obit was published on a Saturday, and by Monday, the executive ordered the Tribune to establish an error policy.
(Posted Feb. 9, 2005)
Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation and Diction exam. When I taught at the University of Alabama, I would give a 100-question grammar, spelling, punctuation and diction exam to beginning writing students. The test was a difficult one, but students had to make at least a 75 on the exam to pass the beginning writing course offered by the College of Communication and Information Sciences. That exam is not available on this web site, but the study guide developed for it is. This is an excellent primer on the basic grammar and spelling rules and concepts that a student should know.
Case studies of journalistic practice. One of the situations with which the chapter begins is that of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The newspaper developed solid evidence of NCAA violations by the hometown University of Minnesota basketball team in 1999. The newspaper had this story just before the team was set to play its first game in that year’s NCAA tournament. An extensive description of this case — how the newspaper got the information, how it made the decision to run the story, and what the fallout was — can be found at the Journalism.org web site. Another case that makes for good reading and good class discussion is that ofRichard Jewell, the man originally accused of planting a bomb in a crowd in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympic games. That case is alsodescribed in full on the Journalism.org web site.
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