Course Outline JRN120 – The Culture of News Fall 2007 Department of Journalism Ryerson University

Instructor: Robert Ortega Office: Room 175, Rogers Communications Centre 80 Gould Street Telephone: 979-5000, ext. 6402

Counselling hours Mondays: 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. Classes Wednesdays: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., RCC 185 Rogers Communications Centre

This course will introduce you to the fundamentals of news reporting and writing. While we will focus on print reporting, the skills you will learn will help you report well for any medium. This course is designed to teach you good journalism practices, how to think critically and ask the right questions, and how to communicate clearly and succinctly. The great British editor David Randall has said that all good reporters share a belief in what the job is about: This is, above all things, to question. Good journalism requires us to get as close as possible to the truth – to what actually happens and why, rather than passing on some version of events crafted by spin doctors or public-relations firms. Good journalists use their reporting skills to discover and publish information that replaces rumour and speculation; to inform and empower voters; to hold powerful people and organizations accountable, and to shed light on things others may want to hide (such as actions or inactions by public officials or those in power.) Good journalists hold up a mirror to society, reflecting its vices and virtues and debunking its cherished myths; they ensure that justice is done and seen to be done, and investigate when this isn’t so. They comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and provide a voice to those not normally heard in the public debate.

To do this means working tirelessly to understand the reality and concerns of people who aren’t like you, whether because of religious, ethnic, cultural or other differences – and it means working to understand how systems and processes function at every level of society, so you can help readers understand too. And, of course, good journalists should never forget that our job isn’t at heart different from that of the ancient bards: We have to tell a story, to grab our readers’ attention and hold it. Doing this isn’t easy. As you’ll discover when you are sweating over your umpteenth attempt at a good lead, or when you are tempted to settle for mediocrity, good reporting requires great effort, attention to accuracy and detail, and a lot of thought about how to write for our readers. But it’s also the most fun, satisfying work there is. In this class, we’ll focus on the basic practices of good reporting and news writing: Identifying what makes a news story. Answering the 5Ws and H (who, what, where, when, why and how). Getting the facts right. There is no room and no tolerance in journalism for inaccuracy. The most eloquent prose means nothing if the facts are not correct. Don’t assume. Check and re-check all your information. Ask lots of questions. Don’t “think” or “assume” something is right. Check it again Interviewing people effectively. Asking challenging questions. Writing leads that grab and inform the reader. Crafting a nut or theme paragraph that explains why we’re writing the story. Writing simply. Clear, concise writing is hard work, but it is essential in a craft that must explain often complex material to ordinary readers. It is also the key to writing stories worth reading. Organizing stories well and writing structurally sound sentences. Using lively quotes, and drafting smooth transitions and natural endings. Meeting deadlines. If you miss a deadline, you’ve blown the assignment. Making every story an award-winning piece of writing is commendable, but not always practical under the rigors of daily journalism. DON’T IGNORE DEADLINES. Explaining complex material clearly and avoiding jargon. Exploring the richness of colour and detail that brings stories alive. Paying close attention to grammar and spelling. Understanding newspaper style (in our case, following The Canadian Press Stylebook).

We’ll also work to cultivate the qualities and attitude you’ll need to be a good reporter: Honesty. You can’t lie your way to the truth. Anything less than an honest approach to gathering information will compromise you and your story and lead to a loss of credibility and a loss of trust. Fairness. Be aware of your biases and try your hardest to set them aside. You should approach every story with an open mind and a sense of fairness for all those you interview – no matter what your own views. Balance. Reporters must constantly strive to provide all sides of a story so that readers can understand the complexities of an issue and make up their own minds about it. Understanding of background/context. It’s important to tell readers what a story may mean to them – to provide the necessary background so they understand the information in the context of what has happened and what will happen. Persistence. When doors are closed in your face, you have find ways to open them or learn to find the story elsewhere. Reporters can’t give up because they face intimidation, threats or closed doors. When you hit a barrier, when your mind or body wants to pack it in, take a moment to regroup and refocus. Enterprise. Reporters have to think on their feet. They have to have ideas; they have to observe what’s going on around them; they have learn to see stories others overlook, to find ways to get their stories and to make the routine interesting. Dullness is the enemy. Keeping your opinions out of news stories. You may report on what other people say and do (or fail to do). Save your opinion for the editorial or opinion pages. Ruthlessness about your own writing. Don’t settle for the first word, the first sentence, the first paragraph you write. Good writers rewrite -- and rewrite often. This semester, we’ll also work on how to:

Get the story through good reporting and interviewing techniques as well as your own enterprise and initiative. Handle the frustrations and on-the-job pressures of gathering information and writing stories to deadline. Develop good news judgment. Develop interesting story ideas. Find a clear focus for each story. “Show” rather than “tell” the story to readers. Write for readers. Thinking of readers will make it easier to focus your story and to convey what is most important to them. What do readers need to know? What impact does the story have on them? We’ll achieve this through lectures, in-class and on-the-street assignments, as well as through enthusiastic discussion in the classroom. Reporting well is about much more than just gathering and purveying facts. If there is one thing editors look for when they’re hiring journalists, it’s a sense of passion and excitement. Journalism is exciting. Even when the people you need to interview are trying to avoid you. Even when suspect your assignment must have come from an editor in a drunken stupor. Even when you feel so frazzled you can’t possibly put three words together, let alone a complete sentence. Even – perhaps especially – when you find yourself thinking, “what the hell am I doing here?” To become a good journalist means understanding that this work isn’t just a matter of crafting words or transcribing what someone says. You must understand, appreciate and come to take pride in the craft and tradition of journalism; if you can’t see its redeeming qualities – along with acknowledging its warts – it will be difficult, even painful, to report and write. It is a craft that requires dedication and commitment. It is not a great confidence builder or ego booster. Learning to be accurate, balanced, fair, resourceful, persistent, enthusiastic, curious, eager and passionate is hard work. William Zinsser, in his book On Writing Well, says writing is one of the hardest things that people do: “A clear sentence is no accident.” The rewards, however, can be incredibly satisfying: righting a wrong; telling readers things they need to know or should care about; writing a story that moves readers to tears or rouses them to take action. CLASSES Classes will combine lectures, writing assignments and other exercises.

During the first weeks, most of your time will be spent in the writing lab. As your knowledge and experience increases, you will spend more time doing stories out of the classroom. This class relies on your participation. Your progress will depend in part on active classroom discussion and constructive critiques. I will give you deadlines in class for stories and other assignments. Assignments must be handed in by deadline or penalties will be imposed (see GUIDELINES ON WRITING AND SUBMITTING STORIES FOR REPORTING CLASS). Once assignments are marked, I will return them to your file folder in the student lounge. Please review the markings carefully; they are intended to help you see how to improve your reporting and writing. Check your files every day for your stories or for other notes from me. If you have a concern about the editing of your work, the written comments, or how the grade was determined, check the Common Course Outline first to determine what each grade means. If that fails to answer your questions, please see me for further discussion. You cannot make up a mark for missed in-class assignments or forclass assignments. You must be in class on that day. Only a medical certificate will be accepted as a valid reason for missing in-class and regular assignments.

MARKS Most of the details on the grading system for The Culture of News are contained in the Common Course Outline. Your overall mark will be out of 50 points, which will be multiplied by two to become your mark for the semester. This will break down as follows: You will have three graded reporting assignments for ten points each (accounting for 60 per cent of your final grade). The Canadian Press style test will be out of 10 points, accounting for 20 percent of your final mark; and your in-class work will be out of 10 points, for 20 per cent of your final mark. (An example of for-class work will be a note you will be assigned on your fear of interviewing).

*** AN IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT YOUR MARK *** Although your early assignments will not receive a letter grade, ALL assignments must be completed to receive a grade for the course If all assignments are not completed, you will receive a failing grade. COUNSELLING HOURS

My hours are posted on the front of this course outline and on my office door. Formal hours aside, students are welcome to discuss stories, ideas and critiques any time I’m not in the classroom. OTHER IMPORTANT NOTES 1) Make yourself familiar with the university’s and School’s policies on such topics as grades and codes of student conduct. Remember that you must adhere to all relevant university policies set out in the Ryerson calendar and the student handbook. You can find information on the university’s web site and on the School of Journalism’s web site. Here are some relevant sites: www/ 2) It is your responsibility to find out from another student what you have missed if you are absent from class. If necessary, have another student pick up handouts for you. It is also your responsibility to show up on time for class. While on occasion there may be extenuating circumstances, showing up 15 or 20 minutes late is inconsiderate to the instructor and to your fellow students. 3) When class begins COMPUTERS MUST BE TURNED OFF. It is not only rude, but also a distraction to be using them during a lecture or when we have guest speakers. You are free to send e-mails or do other work on your computers until class begins. 4) 5) When class begins CELL PHONES MUST BE TURNED OFF. Communicate with me by telephone or typewritten notes – not by e-mail. E-mail communication has been subject to abuse. When you must miss a class, you must contact me immediately by telephone – not e-mail. On occasion, you may be allowed to file stories by e-mail if circumstances dictate (such as doing an assignment close to home). I will decide this on a case-by case basis. You must have prior permission from me to file a story by e-mail. My e-mail policy aside, students are obliged to obtain and maintain a


Ryerson e-mail account. 7) On occasion, you may face out-of-pocket expenses in covering a reporting assignment. This could be for such items as bus or subway fares and entrance to an event such as the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. RYERSON’S GRADING SYSTEM Letter grade Percentage range A+ 90-100 A 85-89 A80-84 B+ 77-79 B 73-76 B70-72 C+ 67-69 C 63-66 C60-62 D+ 57-59 D 53-56 D50-52 F 0-49 This course outline is in addition to the Common Course Outline for The Culture of News. The Common Course Outline explains in detail: how stories are graded; the School of Journalism policies on fabrication (making up information) and plagiarism (offering up someone else’s words, data, arguments as your own); required books for the course; and other recommended reading.

ABOUT YOUR INSTRUCTOR: Bob Ortega After completing my Master’s degree in Journalism at Columbia University, I found my first reporting job in Alaska, where I became the one-man news department at an Anchorage radio station that went belly up four months later. Next I worked as a reporter and morning news anchor at a television station in Fairbanks, and then covered the state legislature in Juneau before moving back to Anchorage as a reporter and the assignment editor at the ABC affiliate station there.

After three years in television, I joined the Anchorage Times, covering environmental and legal issues such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and becoming the paper’s lead investigative reporter. Following a stint as the managing editor of the weekly Homer News, I spent a year traveling around Asia and writing freelance newspaper and magazine stories. Then I reported for the Seattle Times, which led to an offer from the Wall Street Journal. At the Journal, I became the paper’s correspondent for the Rocky Mountain region, and also reported from Mexico, Central America and other places. While there I wrote the book “In Sam We Trust,” a business history and exposè about Wal-Mart and its founder, Sam Walton. In 1999 I accepted a Knight International Fellowship to teach investigative reporting in Paraguay, one of the world’s most corrupt countries. I spent the next six years training reporters in 14 countries in South America, the Caucasus and former Soviet Republics. During that time I spent two years helping establish the first independent journalism institute in the Republic of Georgia, and spent a year in Belarus and two in Ukraine developing training programs and coaching local journalists. I joined the journalism department at Ryerson one year ago. This will be my second year teaching news reporting to undergraduate students. GUIDELINES ON WRITING AND SUBMITTING STORIES FOR REPORTING CLASS 2007 All stories must be printed and double-spaced. Hand-written assignments (or hand-written notes for class assignments) are not acceptable. I only require one copy of your story. However, you should keep a second hard copy for yourself and store it on a disk, CD, thumb drive or other storage device. Always, always back up your stories. There is no acceptable excuse for not having a backup copy in case the original is lost. Do not staple the pages of your story together. When I’m editing, I often have to jump back and forth between pages. Use paper clips. They will be on my desk. Feel free to use them. When you are working on a story for this class, remember always to identify yourself fully to sources you contact. You can say you are a student reporter from the Ryerson School of Journalism and you’re working on a story about … This way, those you interview are aware from the start that they are being interviewed for a story that could end up in print. Should they ask if it is a class assignment, you can say that it is, but that it might

still be considered for publication on or off campus. Unnamed sources cannot be used in your stories. You must get the first names (or two initials) and last names of everyone you interview. Ryerson students should be identified by their program and year (example: Jon Smyth, a second-year radio and television arts student). When you are doing “streeters,” don’t use those who refuse to give their names. Move on. Interview more people. Keep in touch with me, your editor for the year. It’s not good enough to call me a day or a week after you’ve failed to show up on story assignment day. You must advise me immediately by phone if you cannot be in class for assignments. Once again, DO NOT correspond with me through e-mail. Instead, type out a note and leave it in my faculty mailbox or under my door OR call my office number. Long distance calls on a story can be made from my office, but they must be cleared with me first and recorded on a call log I will provide. Thou shalt not interview Ernie the hotdog man -- unless your story has to do with the state of the hotdog business or hotdog vendors. Thou shalt not interview fellow journalism students -- unless they represent some organization that is relevant to your story. Consistent spelling, grammar and style errors in your copy will result in lower grades. Maintain a close check of your file in the student lounge. Edited and graded stories are returned to those files. I might also leave other notes related to the course in your files. You should check them daily. Keep a portfolio of all your work -- originals and edited versions, including any rewritten stories. Keep a record of the full names and phone numbers of those you interview. They may come in handy for future stories. Also: I may ask for them to make accuracy checks on your stories. Get it in print. If you think the story is worth selling to a newspaper, try it. How about the Ryersonian, the Eyeopener, ethnic newspapers, entertainment papers (eye, NOW), business publications? Newspaper recruiters are always looking for a variety of published clippings at jobhunting time. To repeat from the Common Course Outline: A proper name misspelled

or an incorrect fact in your stories will result in a warning on the first occasion and an automatic failing grade on subsequent occasions. There is no substitute for accuracy. When it comes to spelling proper names correctly or getting your facts right, there is no such thing as a typo. Check, double-check, triple-check every proper name. Here are some rules when we do same-day assignments in which you receive stories selected by me: You are not permitted to switch stories with another student reporter. See me if there is some compelling reason for balking at a story assignment. Any background clippings you get with your assignment are simply that: BACKGROUND. They provide you with some basic relevant facts and the names of potential contacts. While you may take some factual information from these clips, they are not the foundation of your story. Your job is to update the story by finding a fresh angle on which to focus. The assignment schedule (known as the sked) is the editor’s idea of how and what to go after for a story. If the story as assigned changes for the better, go with it. But you cannot simply change the focus on a whim or because you don’t like the original idea. Talk to me about it. You can also talk to more people than those suggested on the sked. Your job is to dig out the story. You MUST be in class for any same-day assignments. A student who misses an assignment must meet with me as soon as possible to arrange a mutually agreeable time to carry out a late assignment. It must be carried out under the same working conditions as those who attended class and completed the assignment on time. It is imperative you contact me as soon as possible to arrange a make-up assignment. Those who fail to do so will receive a mark of 0. As well, late assignments will not receive the same detailed editing provided to students who carry out their assignments on time. You MUST meet deadlines. There are times when getting it right and getting it in on time are more important than crafting the perfect turn of phrase. When you are writing to same-day deadlines, a full grade will be docked for missing the deadline, and another for every 10 minutes over deadline. With a 6 p.m. deadline, that means a story turned in at 6:00:01 but before 6:10 will receive only a maximum grade of B; a story turned in by 6:20 p.m. will receive only a maximum grade of C; a story turned in by 6:30 p.m. will receive only a maximum grade of D. Beyond that, it’s an automatic fail. An assignment in the D or F range can be rewritten for up to no more than

a one grade improvement. However, no upgrades will be given for stories that received a D or an F because of a missed deadline, factual errors that resulted in the low or failing grade, or other penalties (such as consistently poor grammar, spelling and style errors). Rewriting does not guarantee a better grade. Rewritten stories that simply correct spelling, grammar and style errors and follow my edited corrections are little more than typing exercises and will not be given a higher grade. If you decide to rewrite stories, you should first discuss them with me. IMPORTANT NUMBERS Normally, on any day you are on assignment I will be in or near my office or the classroom. Call me if you need to discuss a story or a problem while you’re out reporting. My number is: 416-979-5000, ext. 6402. Leave a message if I’m not immediately available. The journalism department’s fax number is: 416-979-5216. Keep this number handy. The machine is located directly across from my office. Use it when you want to receive information, such as a press release or report, from a story source. Final comment: Most stories in first year suffer from too few interviews. Talk to lots of people. This isn’t so that you can use all of them in your story. It simply gives you more to choose from when it is time to write -- and likely gives you more variety of opinions with which to work. -30-

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