JMC 3023 FEATURE WRITING
10:30 a.m. to12:20 p.m. Monday & Wednesday
Room 1030 Gaylord Hall
Instructor: Warren Vieth, firstname.lastname@example.org, (405) 501-3374
Office: 3027 Gaylord Hall
Office Hours: Monday & Wednesday after class and by appointment
Class website: http://jmc3023fall10.blogspot.com/
This course will help you master the fundamentals of feature writing. You will learn to recognize the different forms of features, the elements they have in common and the planning, reporting and writing techniques used by accomplished feature writers.
You will have frequent reading, writing and brainstorming assignments. You will complete several big feature stories requiring a significant amount of reporting, writing and editing time. Much of the work will be done outside of class. (For undergraduate courses, a student taking a three-credit course that meets for three hours a week should expect to spend an additional six hours a week on coursework outside the classroom.)
TEXTBOOKS & READINGS
• “Feature & Magazine Writing: Action, Angle and Anecdotes,” David Sumner and Holly Miller
• Associated Press Stylebook
• Other readings provided by instructor
Although you will have numerous exercises and assignments in this course, most of your grade will be based on the successful completion of several big feature stories. These stories will require considerable research, reporting and sourcing. All stories must contain original, current reporting and quotes from multiple sources based on live interviews or direct observation. Unless I agree in advance to exceptions, stories may not focus on organizations or activities in which you are actively involved. They may not contain information or quotes reported by someone else, information based on something you observed in the past, or interviews with friends, roommates or relatives. All stories should be suitable for publication, and you should inform your sources that their actions or quotes may appear in print. All human sources must be identified by their real names; all information sources must be attributed. Some of your stories will be submitted for possible use in the Oklahoma Daily, the Routes webzine, the Norman Transcript, the Oklahoman, the Oklahoma Gazette, the Oklahoma Observer and other publications. IN THIS CLASS, YOU ARE REAL REPORTERS.
All of your work must be original content. You will not receive credit for material copied from other sources. I EXPECT YOU TO INTERVIEW AND QUOTE PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS, RELATIVES OR ROOMMATES. IN OTHER WORDS, I EXPECT YOU TO TALK TO STRANGERS. With rare exceptions, you will not receive credit for pulling quotes from media briefings you did not attend in person.
You will submit at least one original photo with each story.
At a minimum, you will be required to write the following:
• Street Story—A 750-word descriptive story based on real-time observation of a person, event or process as it is occurring. The objective to transport your readers to the scene of a story by capturing its sights, sounds, smells, characters, voices, atmosphere, mood, color and action in vivid descriptive detail.
• Classmate Story—A 750-word biographical story about one of the other students in this class. This story will be a warm-up exercise for the more extensive profile you will write next. Although your classmate will be your primary source, you will need to talk to at least one additional source for this story.
• Profile Story—A 1,000-word biographical story about an interesting person you don’t already know. The subject does not need to be rich, famous or powerful; some of the most compelling profiles focus on ordinary, overlooked people. Unless I agree in advance to an exception, profiles of close friends or relatives are not allowed. Multiple sources are required.
• Trend Story—A 1,200-word feature providing specific, anecdotal examples of a broader topic with inherent news value. The objective is to find one or more colorful and informative microcosms that help readers better understand an important trend, event, study, statistic or other notable phenomenon in the news. The story will require a combination of extensive authoritative and anecdotal source material.
• Human Interest Story—A 1,200-word feature describing in narrative form a real-life drama that draws upon one of the universal themes of human existence: life and death, love and hate, love and loss, winning and losing, triumph and tragedy, heroism and villainy, alienation and reconciliation, turning points and epiphanies. Multiple sources are required.
• Immersion Story—A 2,000-word extended narrative based on multiple interviews and observations of a person, group, organization, project or process over several weeks or months. You should spend time every week making contact with your subject, conducting interviews and research and recording your subject’s movement or progress over time. The objective is display your mastery of in-depth reporting skills and descriptive, narrative storytelling techniques. Multiple sources are required.
To complete this course successfully, you must attend classes regularly, participate in classroom discussions, finish assignments on time, display enthusiasm, and demonstrate proficiency in story planning, reporting and writing skills.
All of your exercises will be graded on a 0-to-100 scale. On creative assignments, I typically assign a 75 for minimally acceptable work, 85 for good work and 95 for exceptional work. Grades below 80 are reserved for substandard work. I almost never give 100s, because doing so would imply a level of perfection that few of us are capable of attaining. YOU SHOULD NOT EXPECT TO MAKE AN A IN THIS COURSE BY SIMPLY SHOWING UP AND TURNING IN ACCEPTABLE ASSIGNMENTS BASED ON THE MINIMUM CONTENT REQUIREMENTS. That would earn you a B at best.
Your grades will be allocated as follows:
• Story Assignments* 60%
• Quizzes 20%
• Ideas 10%
• Other Assignments 10%
*Street 2.5%, Classmate 2.5%, Profile 10%, Trend 12.5%, Human Interest 12.5%, Immersion 20%
These percentage allocations are subject to change. Any revisions will be announced.
There will be no midterm or final exam in this course. Your assigned stories will substitute for exams.
You will take frequent quizzes. A typical quiz will consist of five questions focusing on your assigned readings, our class discussions, AP style and spelling skills.
Generating good ideas is the foundation of good feature writing. You will post at least one feature idea per week on the class website. We will discuss these ideas during class.
The class schedule lists which textbook chapter should be read for a particular day of class. We will discuss the readings during class.
You are professional journalists, and I expect you to make your presence known. A total of 5% of your final grade will be based on your participation in classroom discussions and activities. If you arrive late for class on a regular basis, I will reduce your participation grade. Your participation grade will be divided between the first half and second half of the semester. You will begin each half with a grade of 75, which I will revise upward as the semester progresses.
I expect you to keep quiet, pay attention and make eye contact with me when I am addressing the class. I expect you to do the same when others are speaking. Engaging in extraneous conversations while your instructor, guest speakers or other students have the floor will adversely affect your grade.
I do not tolerate the use of cell phones, MP3 players, laptops and other electronic devices for personal purposes during class. The use of university computers in the classroom for personal purposes, such as checking email or surfing the Web, is also prohibited. PUT YOUR CELL PHONE AWAY DURING CLASS. KEEP YOUR EYES OFF THE SCREEN AND YOUR HANDS OFF THE KEYBOARD DURING DISCUSSIONS. Violations of this policy will adversely affect your grade and your working relationship with me.
Errors will count heavily against your grade. Significant fact errors, including misspelled proper names and incorrect ages, will result in a substantial reduction on your grade for that assignment. Other misspellings and style errors will result in a lesser reductions at my discretion. Style errors include grammar, punctuation, abbreviation and number errors in written assignments, and format errors with photographs, audio, video and graphics.
We will use the AP Stylebook as our guide to proper style. It is essential that you spell words correctly and use proper grammar in your journalism. At several points during the semester, we will devote class time to spelling, grammar and style issues. You will be quizzed on the material we cover.
Although you should strive to attend every class, you may have four absences without penalty. These four absences include both unexcused and excused absences. IF YOU MISS MORE THAN FOUR CLASSES, YOU WILL FAIL THE COURSE.
You are expected to turn in assignments by their assigned due dates. NO LATE WORK WILL BE ACCEPTED. If assignments are not turned in on time, zeros will be given for those assignments. If you know you could be in jeopardy of turning in an assignment late because you plan on using one of your four absences, you need to contact me in advance to discuss alternative arrangements for completing assignments and taking quizzes.
If you need to contact me for any reason, you should call my cell phone AND send an email. (I do not check my office phone regularly.) Be sure to contact me well enough in advance to arrange a time to turn in assignments before they are due.
Honesty is basic to good journalism, and I expect it on tests and graded assignments. At times in this class you may consult with one another on assignments, but your work must be your own. This means you may not use any text, photos or other multimedia content produced by others in your work without proper attribution. YOU AND YOU ALONE MUST BE THE CREATOR OF EVERYTHING YOU TURN IN FOR A GRADE. If you use materials from another source, it must be attributed properly and cannot satisfy the media requirement for the story.
Any cheating, plagiarism, purposeful falsification or misrepresentation, or other form of academic dishonesty is subject to a failing grade in the class and to disciplinary action in accordance with university regulations, which may mean dismissal from the university.
(From the OU Faculty Handbook:) Academic misconduct includes, but is not limited to, cheating, plagiarism, fabrication and fraud. Cheating is “the use of unauthorized materials, methods, or information in any academic exercise, including improper collaboration.” Plagiarism includes “the representation of the words and ideas of another as one's own.” Fabrication includes “the falsification or invention of any information or citation in an academic exercise.” Fraud includes “the falsification, forgery, or misrepresentation of academic work, including the resubmission of work performed in one class for credit in another class.”
Journalists play a key role in shaping the perceptions of society. As part of this course, we will discuss issues of professional ethics and their contribution to the pursuit of truth, accuracy and fairness in journalism. We will discuss the ethical considerations raised by examples of feature stories written by professional journalists and those we produce in this course.
Writers and editors possess the power to influence people’s perceptions about themselves and others. In this course, we will explore how sensitive storytelling and editing can reflect the views of diverse groups in our culture with respect to age, ability, gender, race and ethnicity, religion and philosophy.
If any member of the class is disabled and is in need of special accommodations, the Office of Disability Services and I will work with you to provide reasonable accommodations to ensure that you have a fair opportunity to perform well in this class. Please advise me of such a disability, subject to verification, and the desired accommodations as soon as possible.
It is the policy of the University to excuse absences of students that result from religious observances and to provide without penalty for the rescheduling of examinations and additional required class work that may fall on religious holidays.
If you are a journalism major, you will choose one of your projects as your designated assignment for permanent storage in your Gaylord College portfolio. The purpose of the portfolio assignment is to assess your mastery of key concepts, skills and objectives of this and other courses you complete as an undergraduate. If you are a journalism major, you will receive an incomplete if you fail to submit your portfolio requirement.