MCOM 407 Syllabus

Multimedia Reporting Capstone | Spring 2014
Dr. Stacy Spaulding | office hours | email | @drspaulding | Course schedule

MCOM 407/507.001 | Mondays, 11 a.m.-1:40 p.m. | VB 207
MCOM 407/507.002 | Tuesdays, 11 a.m.-1:40 p.m. | VB 207
MCOM 407/507.003 | Mondays, 3:30-6:10 p.m. | MC 110

Welcome to MCOM 407. This is a multimedia reporting capstone course intended to be taken during senior year as your final reporting and writing course. You’ll be producing a series of stories 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 them feedback on how their work will stand up in the real world. In return, you’ll receive their feedback on your work. 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 in an interactive environment.
  • Structure content to attract and sustain an interactive audience.
  • Apply ethical and legal standards to content.
  • Identify and use the elements of effective multimedia storytelling.
  • Select the most appropriate media for a given purpose.
  • Develop and maintain a professional online presence using current and emerging technologies.

Course themes

In the past, this course has focused on two primary reporting themes:

This year, we’re combining both of these approaches by studying the explanatory narrative structure, and using that structure to in a team-based reporting project featuring text, photography and multimedia.

If you are unfamiliar with Baltimore City, Baltimore County or the State of Maryland, begin here:



3+2 Explainers: In teams of two, you’ll write a 3+2 explainer to explain an issue of significance to the city, county or state. Example: Metal Men. Length: up to 2,000 words (D=500-600 words each, N=200-300 words each). Visuals: featured photo, source photo and one piece of multimedia, published to Hidden Baltimore.

  • Story #1: Using Baltimore CitiStat, Maryland State Stat orAmerican Fact Finder from the US Census Bureau, write an explanatory story using the 3+2 story structure that combines expert sources with immersive/observational narrative illustrating the statistic/issue. Story should contain a feature photo, a profile photo of a key source, and a photostory in the form of an audio slideshow or video. 30 points.
  • Story #2: On a subject of your choosing, write an explanatory story using the 3+2 story structure that combines expert sources with an immersive/observational narrative illustrating a local issue. Story should contain a feature photo, a profile photo of a key source, and a photostory in the form of an audio slideshow or video. 30 points.

Team project: In teams of three, you’ll build on the 3+2 explainer, developing the elements (narrative, reporting, feature photos and multimedia) into a custom website built to current HTML/CSS standards. In addition to the basic elements of the explanatory narrative (an expanded 3+2 structure, feature photos and multimedia), the story should have at least two “plus ones”  or additional features. It should also be tablet and mobile friendly. 60 points. Examples of online story packaging:

In-class reading reflections: These journal reflections will be given at the beginning of class and will be based on the posted reading questions. They’ll be used to stimulate thought and discussion, and to assess whether you prepared for class. These journals are worth three points each.

Journals will be posted in Blackboard from 11 a.m. Monday through 2 p.m. Tuesday. If you are unable to attend class, you may complete the journal outside of classroom time. To receive credit, be sure to provide proof that your absence is excused. Credit will not be awarded for unexcused absences or failure to meet the reflection deadline. According to the class attendance policy (see below), you are allowed one unexcused absence per semester. This will be accounted for by dropping your lowest reflection grade.


The weekly schedule, which includes deadlines and readings, is located here. Each unit will be structured as follows:

  • Week 1: Assignment meeting. You will research a story topic and conduct at least one interview on it. You’ll then pitch the idea to the class, and find a partner to work with you on the story.
  • Week 2: Draft lab. You will have in-class time to work with your partner to put together a draft of your story and multimedia. You will conference with the professor on the story progress. Get started early and do the bulk of your reporting between weeks 1 and 2 so you can make the most of this rough draft session. Be prepared to go back to your sources between weeks 2 and 3 to get additional details and/or multimedia shots.
  • Week 3: Deadline lab. Final drafts due on the site. Professor will review headlines, story blurbs and leads with you to help polish your story. While the story should be published to the site by the end of class, you will have one additional week to make any revisions or additions necessary.
  • Week 4: Evaluation. You’ll formally evaluate the work of your peers and receive their evaluation in return.

Required reading


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 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: I read the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, the City Paper, Baltimore Magazine and the Baltimore Brew. Read any and all material you can find on your topic so you can talk intelligently with your sources. Read good journalism that inspires you to be a better reporter.
  • Be honest, supportive and kind to your classmates: You’ll be depending on each other for feedback all semester. 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 the classroom for assignments and consultations with the professor, refrain from texting and Facebooking during class and refrain from interrupting class by leaving for 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. The pre-requisites for this course are MCOM 356 and MCOM 341, as well as MCOM 257 and MCOM 258. I will not be focusing on equipment or software basics in class.

It is my goal to:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the subject and 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.
  • Encourage you to do your best. In this class, I think that 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
  • Assign grades according to the criteria stated in the syllabus. We’ll be using a peer grading system in this class to help you learn to better critique your own work and the work of others. I understand that this system of grading may be a little difficult to adjust to at first, but in the long run I believe you’ll become a better editor and writer because of it.
  • Provide helpful feedback: You’ll receive feedback on every assignment from me and from your peers. I will also be sure your assignment is returned in a timely fashion, usually within 10 days of the due date.
  • 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.


Reading/homework journals will make up 10 percent of your grade. Your reporting will make up 90 percent of your grade.

Your class assignments will be graded by the instructor. Your reporting will be graded using a class-wide peer-grading system. Why? 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. 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 to your work. This means letting go of the A, B, C mindset for now.

Instead, you want to practice critical application of community and industry standards. Completing these peer reviews will help you to become a better reader and editor. Receiving these peer reviews will help you build a better understanding of how your own work is read.

We’ll use a rubric that will provide you with definitions of these values and help you apply them. I’ll review the grade and offer you my own comments on each assignment as well. For every peer grade you give, I’ll ask you to identify specific reasons to justify your assessment. For every peer grade you receive, I’ll ask you whether or not you think the assessment is fair.

Each assignment will receive a numerical score between 1 and 5 from your peer evaluators. During the semester, I’ll track your cumulative point total. If it becomes necessary to convert the professional content standards we’re applying into student-appropriate grade averages, I’ll apply a curve after evaluating class performance statistics. I will do this by either selecting a high grade in the class as 100% or setting the median grade as 85%, whichever is fairest to everyone. This curve will mean your final grade will be determined by your overall performance as compared to your peers.

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%

Other grading notes

  • Students may receive upper-level elective credit with a D, but this course will not count among MCOM 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. After repeating the course, students will only receive credit for the course once and the highest of the grades will be calculated. 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.

Course Policies

All course policies affecting students can be found here. Policies of specific interest to this course include:

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, quizzes, tests, etc., may be made up in the case of an excused absence. All other absences are unexcused. Students are allowed one unexcused absence per semester. Graded assignments, quizzes, tests, etc., may be not be made up in the case of an unexcused absence. 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 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 before any accommodation can be made.

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.

Civility: MCCS is committed to cultivated 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.

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.

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.