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.
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 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.
In the past, this course has focused on two primary reporting themes:
- Community-oriented features on people, places and issues take readers to past the touristy-Inner Harbor and to reveal the heart of the city and the people working to make it a better place. For example: Hidden Baltimore | Better Bmore
- Investigative series aimed at understanding the underlying causes and lasting effects of a significant city, county or state issue. For example: Improving food for a Better Baltimore, Homelessness in Baltimore County, Reducing Bay Pollution, Latinos and the Baltimore Justice System, the Baltimore Believe Campaign, 10 Years Later.
This year, we’re going to combine both of these approaches. First we’ll study the basics of storytelling, and use those approaches to create a Baltimore narrative. Second, we’ll study the explanatory narrative structure, and use 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:
- WYPR’s Maryland Morning (available as a podcast)
- WEAA’s Marc Steiner Show (available as a podcast)
- WYPR’s Midday with Dan Rodricks (available as a podcast)
- WYPR’s The Signal (available as a podcast)
- Free reads: City Paper, Baltimore Brew, What Weekly
Introduction: The Baltimore Backgrounder
- You’ll get up to speed quickly on the biggest issues facing the city, county and the state by writing–and sharing with your classmates–a backgrounder on a specific issue. We’ll share these in a Google Doc that the entire class will have access to, and can add to throughout the semester.
Unit 1: Vignette
- Narrative vignette: We’ll practice basic narrative writing in the form of a Talk-of-the-Town style vignette. Your job: to record a moment of importance, witnessed by you, in which someone interesting does something interesting. Think of this assignment as a profile-in-minature. Examples handed out in class. Length: 400 words.
- Multimedia vignette: Same as the last assignment, but this time we’ll practice photo composition and sequencing. Examples handed out in class. Length: two 5-shot sequences plus interview shot.
Unit 2: Narrative
- A different angle on a feature story: With a partner, you’ll combine multiple vignettes into a larger feature story that focuses on a single corner of the city. Examples: 24 Hours at the Golden Apple, Out of the Blocks Length: 1,200 to 1,600 words.
Unit 3: Explanatory narrative
- 3+2 explanatory vignette: Here you’ll combine narrative writing with traditional reporting to explain one facet of a significant issue. Example: Metal Men Length: 1,500 to 2,000 words.
Unit 4: Team project
- 4+3 (or more) explanatory narrative: Using Citistat or Statestat,
you’ll write a lengthier explanatory narrative that illuminates the back story behind an interesting state, city or county statistic. Inspiration: Harper High School part one and part two. Length: 1,500 to 3,500 words.
The weekly schedule, which includes deadlines and readings, is located here. Each unit will be structured as follows:
- Week 1: Assignment meeting. We will discuss the assigned reading and and the story requirements. You’ll work with a partner by the end of class to develop an instructor-approved topic. Student editors will be elected. You’ll keep your editor updated on your progress and seek troubleshooting help.
- Week 2: Draft lab. Bring your rough draft/rough cut to class. Your partners and editors will review it and give you suggestions. 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. Student editors will assist you as you publish. Professor will review headlines, story blurbs and leads with you to help polish your story.
- Week 4: Evaluation. After publication, you’ll evaluate the work of your peers and receive their feedback in return.
During each unit, two students will serve as volunteer student editors. In addition to completing their own assignments, they will receive an assignment bonus for completing the following duties: Story editor: You’ll check in with students during the week as they report their stories. If an interview doesn’t work out and they need ideas for other sources, you’ll help out. During the draft lab, you’ll lead either group or individual feedback sessions, giving each student feedback on his or her story. During the publication lab, you’ll assist each writer as they publish to the website and do last-minute proofreads. This will require some forethought on your part–you’ll need to have your story filed early. Multimedia editor: You’ll check in with students during the week as they report their stories. If they need a refresher on how to use the equipment, you’ll help out. During the draft lab, you’ll lead either group or individual feedback sessions, giving each student feedback on his or her work. During the publication lab, you’ll assist each writer as they publish to the website and do last-minute checks. This will require some forethought on your part–you’ll need to have your story filed early.
- The Reporter’s Guide to Multimedia Proficiency (free PDF)
- Book selections: Storycraft, Hometown Boy, Writing as Craft and Magic, Aim for the Heart
- The following audio podcasts: 24 Hours at the Golden Apple, Out of the Blocks, Sheilah Kast’s interview of fire chief James Clack, Harper High School part one and part two, Retraction
- Assigned newspaper articles, such as Metal Men by David Simon and Witness to Slavery by Gilbert Lewthwaite and Gregory Kane, Shipbreaking by Gary Cohn and Will Englund
- Assigned readings from The Baltimore Sun, The New York Times, and other class handouts.
- The AP Stylebook (available for Blackberry, iPhone and as a Microsoft Word app)
- Class blog posts and any other readings assigned in the class class schedule
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.
Class assignments will make up 20 percent of your grade. Your reporting will make up 80 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 3 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.
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.
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.