MCOM 407 Syllabus

Multimedia Reporting Capstone
Dr. Stacy Spaulding | office hours | email | Course schedule

MCOM 407/507.001 | Mondays, 11 a.m.-1:40 p.m. | VB 209
MCOM 407/507.002 | Tuesdays, 11 a.m.-1:40 p.m. | VB 207

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 capstone 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 in an interactive environment.
  • Structure content to attract and sustain an interactive audience, while applying appropriate ethical and legal standards.
  • Identify and use the elements of effective multimedia storytelling, selecting 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:

During the spring 2014 semester, we combined 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:

During the fall 2014 semester, we’ll be bringing back the individual capstone project. Your assignment: to produce an in-depth feature story (something suitable for a magazine cover) about an issue of significance to the city, county or state. Example: Metal Men. Once your story is written, you’ll publish it online (using a platform such as Medium, Creatavist, Story Builder or WordPress) and layer in 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 good sources and the latest developments on local issues:


Homework journals: Each week, you’ll complete either a quiz or a reflection on your assigned homework. These journals will be completed on Blackboard and are due by 9 a.m. the day of class. 3 points each week. Journals are graded using this rubric, and take into account your overall preparation for class, attendance and promptness.

Why is this good? For this assignment, with your partner(s), you’ll review good journalism and submit two deliverables: 1) a written reflection, submitted jointly via Blackboard, and 2) an in-class presentation summarizing your reflection. 10 points each, for a total of 40 points, graded using this rubric. The format for the reflection is as follows:

  • Overview/summary of the work: What is it about? Who are the sources? Why is it significant?
  • What others have said: Many of the pieces you’ll be assigned have been hailed by journalism reviews, prize boards and others as examples of outstanding journalism. Why? What have these critics said?
  • 5 bullet points: Make a list of five aspects of this work that make it stand out. Examples: sourcing, voice, details, use of documents and/or data, etc. Be sure to thoroughly explain the significance of each of your points.

The sources you’ll read include:

#1: Student examples

Pick a student project that was named a winner of the most recent round Online News Association awards. Why, do you think, was the project recognized? What’s good about the project, what should we emulate? What could be improved about the project, what mistakes can we learn from?

#2: Project journalism

#3: Audios, photos, multimedia


#4: Plus ones (plus more video and other interesting stuff)

Story: You’ll produce an in-depth feature story (something suitable for a magazine cover) about an 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=500 words each, N=200 words each). Example: Metal Men. 40 points. Rubrics: Digression peer review, digression & narrative peer review, final formal review.

Multimedia & plus ones: Once your story is written, we’ll discuss how to capture compelling visuals and audio. 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. 20 points. Rubric: overall site review.

Required reading/viewing/listening


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. I recommend digital subscriptions to the online versions of the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun. 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 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. 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:

  • 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 a 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 fairly. 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. As a class we will together discuss and define what we’ll evaluate each other on. I will supervise this evaluation system and be sure that it is applied fairly.
  • 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 one week of the peer evaluation 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.


Depending on the number of weekly journal assignments, there will be up to 200 points available to you in the class. The homework journals and Why’s this so good? assignments will be graded by your professor. Your reporting will be graded using a class-wide peer-grading system.

Why use peer grading?

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 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 through peer review. 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.

As a class, we’ll discuss and decide on a rubric that will provide you with definitions of these values and help you apply them. I’ll review the grade and offer 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. (Rubric examples: Digression peer review, digression & narrative peer review, final formal review, multimedia informal review, multimedia formal review, overall site review)

During the semester, I’ll track everyone’s cumulative point totals. At the end of the semester, I’ll apply a curve by setting the median grade at 85%. Why? While I expect us to begin applying industry standards to our work, I want to recognize that you’re still a student and give you (and everyone else) room to experiment, fail and recover. This means that your final grade will be determined by comparing you overall performance to that of 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 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.

University Policies

All course policies affecting students can be found here. They 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. Graded assignments, quizzes, tests, etc., may be made up in the case of an excused absence. If you are requesting an excused absence, you must provide documentation.  All other absences are unexcused. 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 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.

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 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.

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.

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