MCOM 407 Multimedia Reporting Capstone, Fall 2017
Department of Mass Communication & Communication Studies
Dr. Stacy Spaulding | Office hours | Contact Info | Schedule | Blackboard
MCOM 407/507.180 | T 5-7:40 p.m. | MC 100

Welcome to Capstone! This is a capstone course intended to be taken during senior year as your final reporting and writing course. You’ll be producing a semester-long project that will demonstrate the breadth of the reporting, writing and multimedia skills you’ve learned during your college experience. Additionally, you’ll be critiquing the work produced by your peers, giving and receiving feedback on how these projects will stand up in the real world. My role will be to facilitate this process and to guide you to appropriate readings, standards and practices.

Course description

Research and create multimedia news and feature articles incorporating hypertext, graphics, photographics, audio and video elements. Prerequisites: MCOM 356 and MCOM 341 or consent of instructor.

Class outcomes

  • Conduct sustained research and reporting on a topic, structuring content to attract and sustain an interactive audience while applying appropriate ethical and legal standards; and
  • Identify and use the elements of effective multimedia storytelling, selecting the most appropriate media for a given purpose.

Course themes

Your capstone assignment is to report, write and produce an in-depth story about an issue of significance to the city, county or state. You’ll publish your story online and optimize it for the web, adding layers of photography and plus-ones such as infographics, maps, audio or data.

To get a head start:

  • Take a look at past class projects. You can find some of our “best of semester” contest winners here.
  • Research the local impact of issues you care about. If you are unfamiliar with Baltimore City, Baltimore County or the State of Maryland, consider combing the archives of these news outlets to learn about local issues and sources:

The Baltimore Sun, City Paper, Baltimore Brew, What Weekly, Baltimore
WYPR’s Maryland Morning (available as a podcast)
WEAA’s Marc Steiner Show (available as a podcast)
WYPR’s Midday (available as a podcast)
WYPR’s The Signal (available as a podcast)
The Sun’s Roughly Speaking with Dan Rodricks (available as a podcast)

Assignments & Grading

Depending on the number of weekly journal assignments, there will be up to 200 points available to you in the class. Your story, multimedia and overall site will be evaluated using peer and professor review. Your weekly journals and assignments will be evaluated by the professor.

Final letter grades will be given out using the following scale:

A = 94-100%
A- = 90-93%
B+ = 87-89%
B = 84-86%
B- = 80-83%
C+ = 77-79%
C = 70-76%
D+ = 67-69%
D = 60-66%
F = Below 60%

Capstone project

Story: You’ll produce an in-depth news feature about a timely issue of significance to the city, county or state. You’ll use a variation of the 3+2 explanatory story model. Length: up to 1,100 words (D=400 words each, N=150 words each). Example: Metal Men. 30 points. Rubrics: Digression peer review, digression & narrative peer review, final formal review.

Multimedia & plus ones: To optimize your story for the web, you’ll produce a portrait of a key source and one photo story (using video or photos & audio). You’ll produce at least one “plus one” for your story, which  can include interactive maps, infographics, galleries or other elements. 30 points. Rubrics: multimedia informal review, multimedia formal review.

Overall site evaluation: Once your site is complete, you’ll receive an overall site evaluation assessing the functionality and professionalism of your work. 15 points. Rubric: overall site review.

Homework journals

Each week, you’ll complete a reflection on an assigned reading. These journals will be submitted on Blackboard and are due by class time. Journals are graded using the rubric below, and take into account your ability to summarize the readings and add your own original thoughts. If you are absent, homework journals may be submitted in the case of 1) excused absences, 2) your first unexcused absence (see the attendance policy below). Homework journals from subsequent unexcused absences will not be accepted.

Professional Development

You’ll have the opportunity to complete at least one course in the subject of your choice (such as photography, videography, data visualization, etc.). This course is free of charge and will be administered through Blackboard. Here’s how to log into Lynda. If there’s a course on the list that you’d like to take that you don’t see on my Blackboard list, let’s talk. 20 points.

Grading the capstone project

Peer review: What is it, and why use it?

One problem with grades is that getting As or Bs doesn’t always tell you exactly how your work stands up in the real world. What editor or reader will send you a note at the end of the month congratulating you on your A+ work? None. But they will tell you whether or not your work was in-depth, compelling, interesting or fair. Or how many people emailed to complain about it. These are the some of the professional standards you’ll be judged by in the real world, and I’d like you to start applying them. This means letting go of the A, B, C mindset for now.

Instead, we’ll apply the community and industry standards that you are familiar with using peer review. Completing these peer reviews will help you to become a better reader and editor. Receiving these peer reviews will help you understand how your own work is read.

As a class, we’ll discuss and decide on a rubric that will provide you with definitions of our core values and help you apply them. I’ll evaluate the review–and your work–and offer my own comments as well. For every peer review you give, I’ll ask you to identify specific reasons to justify your assessment. For every peer review you receive, I’ll ask you whether or not you think the assessment is fair. (Rubric examples: Digression peer review, digression & narrative peer review, final formal review, multimedia informal review, multimedia formal review, overall site review). Peer review is an integral component of this class, and your attendance is required. To receive your story grades, you must participate in the peer review process.

Applying a curve

While I expect us to begin applying industry standards to your work, I also want to recognize that you’re still a student. I want to give you a bit of room to experiment, fail and recover. That’s why I often use a curve in assigning final grades.

Here’s how it works: during the semester, I’ll track everyone’s cumulative point totals. At key points in the semester, I look at the median grades to test whether or not reviews have been applied fairly. Why? As you probably know, grades tend to fall along a bell curve, like this:

IdealCurve1But what if everyone in the class turns out to be a tough grader? What if feedback has been uneven or unfair? In that case, the bell curve could turn out like this:

MessedUpCurveIf that happens, I’ll apply a curve by setting the median grade at 85%, so that the bell curve will again look like this:



Books you need to buy:

Readings/Multimedia you’ll download/stream:

These links will become active as I assign them in class:


I expect you to:

  • Find the action: Don’t settle for phone and e-mail interviews. Your best journalism will come from direct observation of, and interaction with, people doing interesting things. Look for action on your topic. Then put yourself in the middle of it. I guarantee you’ll be inspired to write.
  • Be persistent in tracking down information and sources: We all know how difficult it can be to get in touch with sources. Get a head start. Be persistent. Don’t be afraid to call. And then call back again. And again. And again.
  • Be a problem-solver: If you’re having a technology problem, Google it. Search the help docs and forums before you throw your hands up in surrender.
  • Read: Read good journalism that inspires you to be a better reporter. As a student, you have free online access to the New York Times, USA Today, and the Baltimore Sun. You can also use your .edu address to read the Washington Post for free. Other free reads you should be following include the City Paper and the Baltimore Brew. Read any and all material you can find on your topic so you can approach your sources with confidence.
  • Be honest, supportive and kind to your classmates: You’ll be depending on each other for feedback. Practice giving them the support and detailed feedback you’d like to receive.
  • Act professionally: Meet deadlines, attend and actively participate in classroom meetings, allocate an appropriate amount of time outside of class for assignments and consultations with the professor, refrain from texting or using social media during class, and refrain from interrupting class by leaving for frequent water, bathroom or phone breaks.
  • Be sure you have the experience needed for this class: You should already have studied the best practices for writing news and features and producing digital media. I will not be focusing on equipment or software basics in class. The prerequisites for this course are MCOM 356 and MCOM 341, and the prerequisites for those courses are MCOM 257 and MCOM 258.

It is my goal to:

  • Explain concepts clearly: I want to be sure you have as much support as you need to meet the requirements of this challenging reporting project. So I’m happy to answer your questions, review concepts and skills, or provide material to help you grow in new directions.
  • Challenge you intellectually and encourage you to do your best. In this class, I think that means encouraging you read as much as possible. It also means encouraging you to get off campus and observe your sources in action, which will take your reporting and writing to the next level. As one of our guest speakers said: “Challenge your ways of seeing. Go out on the street, get on the bus, walk through the town. Trust your impulses.” —Tom Nugent, December, 2010
  • Clearly design, explain and organize the course, its learning objectives, assignments and grading: It is very important to me to provide you with well-designed course that features clear assignments and sensible deadlines. If you have a question, please don’t hesitate to ask. I am happy to explain or, if necessary, to refine the course design in a way that is fair to everyone.
  • Provide helpful feedback: You’ll receive a lot of feedback in this course. I’ll give you comments on every assignment, and you’ll receive verbal and written feedback from your classmates as well. I will also be sure your assignment is returned in a timely fashion, usually within a week of the due date.
  • Select affordable and appropriate materials for class: I work hard not only to keep book costs down, but also to provide a selection of materials that will both challenge, inspire and entertain. I hope you will enjoy the readings. If you don’t, be sure to let me know so I’ll know what to leave off the reading list next semester.
  • Be available for consultation: I answer email promptly during business hours on business days, generally Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I will also post and keep office hours. This is the appropriate time to discuss personal matters such as missed deadlines and class absences, questions regarding grading or missed coursework. This is also a good time to get my feedback on rough drafts.


All course policies affecting students can be found here. Also:

Sylabus changes: In order to meet course outcomes and student needs, I reserve the right to change the syllabus and/or schedule when warranted. I will always provide students with advance notice when I do so, and frequently will seek their input and suggestions on proposed changes.

Late assignments: All assignments are due no later than the due date. Assignments submitted late are subject to loss of a full letter grade and must be turned in no more than one week after the due date. Assignments submitted more than one week late risk not being accepted. Exceptions to this policy must be agreed upon between the student and the instructor. Medical excuses will be accepted in the form of a letter signed by a physician.

Attendance: It is the policy of the university to excuse absences for illness, injury, religious observance, participation in university activities and compelling, verifiable circumstances beyond your control. If you are requesting an excused absence, you must provide documentation. Graded assignments may be made up in the case of an excused absence. All other absences are unexcused absences.  You are allowed one unexcused absence during the semester, however this absence may not be used on a day when we have a project due or a peer review scheduled. Use your absence wisely. Also:

  • Attendance points: You will receive up to 20 points for attending class. Absences–unexcused or excused–will not receive attendance points. Because I take attendance through Blackboard and these settings are not modifiable, there are no exceptions to this policy.
  • Homework journals: Homework journals for excused absences and for ONE unexcused absence will be accepted, but must be submitted by class time. Journals that are late risk losing a grade reduction. Also, journals and assignments from the second or subsequent unexcused absence will not be accepted.
  • If you know you will be absent, it is your responsibility to: 1) Post your homework before class starts. 2) Check with classmates and the course website to keep up to date on readings and assignments. 3) Meet with me during office hours if you have questions.

Students with documented disabilities are encouraged to register with Disability Support Services, 7720 York Road, Suite 232, ext. 4-2638 (voice or TDD). Students who suspect that they have a disability but do not have documentation are encouraged to contact DSS for evaluation information. A memo from DSS authorizing your accommodation is needed to help me understand what types of accommodations will help you best.

Athletics & University activities: You must provide a letter from your coach that explains your place on the team as well as a schedule of games/competitions during the semester. You must take any tests and prepare any assignments that conflict with this schedule before the test or due date, not after. In addition, you must provide a Notification of Absence from Class Form to verify the reason for your absence.

Civility: MCCS is committed to cultivating a collegial atmosphere in which we can all enjoy mutual respect and the creative pursuit of knowledge. Please familiarize yourself with our civility code and practice respectful behavior in the classroom and throughout campus.

D & FX grading: Students may receive upper-level general elective credit with a D, but not MCOM major credits. According to the Registrar’s Office, an I or incomplete can only be given “verifiable medical reasons or documented circumstances beyond their control.” A course grade of FX is given for non-attendance or failure to withdraw. If you stop attending class but do not withdraw, this is the grade you will receive. If you receive an F or FX, you may only repeat the course once. Students who repeat the course will only receive credit for the highest grade achieved. The lower grade will remain on the transcript with an “R” before it to indicate the course was repeated. For the transcript to reflect the repeated course, students must submit a Repeated Course Form to the Records Office. Transcript adjustments are not automatic.

Repeating classes: Towson requires me to remind you that you may not attempt a class for the third time without prior permission from the Academic Standards Committee. Information regarding this policy can be obtained through Enrollment Services.

Plagiarism: Please familiarize yourself with the MCCS plagiarism policy and the University academic integrity policy. All cases of plagiarism will be handled according to this policy. The best way to avoid plagiarism in this course: (1) Do your own, original reporting. (2) Be clear in your notes. Know what is a quote or paraphrase and what you wrote yourself. (3) Quote and attribute anything that you did not write yourself. (4) Don’t procrastinate. Get a head start so you can avoid making mistakes.

Weapons: According to the TU weapons policy, firearms and other weapons are prohibited.  This prohibition includes all replicas.

Legal liability: In all assignments, students must comply with all laws and the legal rights of others (copyright, obscenity, privacy and defamation) and with all Towson University policies (academic dishonesty). Towson University is not liable or responsible for the content of any student assignments, regardless of where they are posted.


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