Welcome to MCOM 407! 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.
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.
- 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.
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 excellent photography and plus-ones such as infographics, maps, audio or data.
To get a head start, you should research the local impact of issues you care about. If you are unfamiliar with Baltimore City, Baltimore County or the State of Maryland, start by combing the archives of these news outlets for local sources and developments on issues that interest you:
- The Baltimore Sun, City Paper, Baltimore Brew, What Weekly, Technical.ly 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 185 points available to you in the class. Your story, multimedia and overall site will be evaluated using a peer review system. Your weekly journals and case study assignments will be graded 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%
Story: You’ll produce an in-depth feature story (something suitable for a magazine cover) about a timely issue of significance to the city, county or state. You’ll use a variation of the 3+2 explanatory story model, which will feature a tight lede, a strong nutgraf, and a variety of critical sources. Length: up to 1,800 words (D=400 words each, N=150 words each). Example: Metal Men. 40 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 plus ones for your story, which can include interactive maps, infographics, galleries or other elements. 40 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. 30 points. Rubric: overall site review.
Grading homework journals
Each week, you’ll complete a reflection on your assigned homework. These journals will be completed on Blackboard and are due by class time. Routine journals are 3 points, case studies are 10 points. Journals are graded using this rubric, and take into account your ability to summarize the readings and add your own original thoughts. Homework journals may only be made up in the case of 1) excused absences, or 2) your two allowed unexcused absences of the semester (see the attendance policy below).
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 community and industry standards through 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. To receive your story grades, you must participate in the peer review process.
Applying the 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 the end of 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:
Books you need to buy:
- Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
- The AP Stylebook (also available for iPhone and as a Microsoft Word app)
Readings/Multimedia you’ll download/stream:
- On structure: Metal Men, by David Simon & Story Craft, chapter 12
- Case studies: Story structure, ethics, plus ones, multimedia.
- On interviewing: Out of the Blocks, Sheilah Kast’s interview of Fire Chief James Clack, & Story Craft, chapter 10
- On audio, photos and video: Mediastorm 101 Reporting & Post-production. Access to these materials will be provided to you, funded using the lab fees you pay when you registered for this course.
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 Washington Post. 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 and social media during class, and refrain from interrupting class by leaving for frequent water or bathroom 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:
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 will be allowed two unexcused absences during the semester, and the graded assignments due on that day will be accepted. However, these absences may not be used on a day when we have a project due date or a peer review. Use your absence wisely. Assignments and homework journals for subsequent unexcused absences will not be accepted. If you know you will be absent, it is your responsibility to do the following: 1) Email any homework to me 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. 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.