CMM/ENG 113 — Basic News Writing and Reporting


Instructor: David Swartzlander
Location: 130 Gaylord Hall
Instructor’s office: 105 Gaylord Hall
Office phone:
402–826–8269 Home phone: 402–643–5135

Instructor’s e-mail address:

Instructor’s Twitter account: @dswartzlander

Online course address:

Office Hours: MWTTh: 9:30–11:30 a.m.; 2:30–3:30 p.m. MWF or by appointment

No office hours on Friday.


Your job in this class is to tell stories by writing them. My job is to teach you how to report and write those stories. The better you tell accurate stories, the higher your grade. If you write your stories well, you get to share them with the Doane community through The Doane Owl newspaper, and with the world through Doaneline and social media. You will tell most of your stories using text — hence the word “writing” in the title — but if you want to tell them via an audio slideshow, video or audio from your phone or by using another tool, be my guest, providing you provide the script for your video or audio piece.

This course is designed to teach students with little or no practical journalism experience the process of reporting and writing news for print and online. It will introduce you to the way reporters do their jobs — how they think, act and produce newsworthy stories. You will learn by reading, studying, questioning, discussing and practicing the craft of journalism. You will learn how to report, interview, write and revise news stories — and become a more discerning consumer of news.

The class is intense for a 100 level course. While not difficult, the work is time consuming and can be exasperating. If you fail to exert effort into telling stories, I will politely ask you to withdraw from the class or suggest you find another class better suited for you. If you work on projects unrelated to the class, surf the Internet, respond to your friend’s emails or text friends and others during class, I will ignore you as you ignore me. That will not be pleasant for you. I expect you to act as a responsible adult.

Excuses for failing to complete your work done will fall on deaf ears. Speak up if you fail to understand the expectations and assignments. Ask me. Ask your mentor. Ask one of the editors. Think for yourself. Figure it out. That’s what reporters do.

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to complete numerous tasks, but the top outcomes are:

1. Recognize and identify fundamental news values.

2. Tell stories effectively and accurately.

3. Report well, including learning how to conduct interviews, take notes and organize facts.

4. Explain the basic legal rights of and constraints on the free press, including the laws of libel and privacy, the First Amendment, Freedom of Information Act and Sunshine laws.

5. Produce news for online consumption, including providing links in stories and using social media effectively.

6. Learn how to be responsible by meeting deadlines.


Required textbooks and other reading materials:

  • “Inside Reporting” by Tim Harrower, 2013, McGraw Hill.

Required supplies:

  • At least one notebook and two pens. You should always carry two pens in case one runs out of ink.
  • A camera or a cell phone capable of shooting photos and recording audio.


  • Access to the Lincoln Journal Star, Omaha World-Herald and the New York Times and the Washington Post to see how reporters write stories and to learn about and understand current events. The New York Times is available for free through the university. The Washington Post is free to any student with an .edu email address.
  • “A Writer’s Resource” for those who need help with the English language and grammar.


You will flounder if you fail to show up for class. Attendance is mandatory. If you miss a class, write to me to explain why. You will be responsible for any missed classes or assignments.

If you show up late or unprepared, you will find this class unpleasant. Students may not make up quizzes or assignments missed for tardiness or unexcused absences. You are responsible for all material covered or assigned during classes. When absent, please contact a fellow student to find out what was missed or to get notes. Attendance also is required at the weekly news meeting.


You have been assigned a mentor, a student who already has successfully completed this course. Your mentor will get you started, answer questions and assist with problems. To see the list of editors/mentors, go to Mentors also can help you become part of the newspaper staff. They will not write stories for you, but can answer questions, give you tips on writing and reporting and show you how to improve your stories. In addition, tutors for this class are available. Contact Student Support Services for the list of tutors.


The syllabus and other materials for this class are included in the course website. Your grade will be on Blackboard at


· Tell a minimum of one story per week, starting the week of Sept. 5. Stories should be of interest to Doane students, faculty and staff and must include at least three sources. All stories must include links to relevant Web sites. You cannot forget about a story or fail to hand it in. If the original story idea falls through, reporters are expected to find another story in its stead. Failure to complete the required stories listed in this syllabus means you fail the class.
  • Submit three story ideas by noon Sunday to the Owl editor in chief, the Doaneline multimedia coordinator and me. The ideas should be detailed, including potential sources, the story’s news peg or angle, why it should be told, how it should be illustrated and why our readers would care. Also, tell the editors which of those three stories you would like to work. You can choose as many of those three stories as you wish.
  • Submit 10 newsworthy, usable photos. Most reporters today are expected to shoot photos to accompany stories.
  • Participate in a Twitter scavenger hunt and open social media accounts to share newsworthy items on Facebook and Twitter during the semester. News happens in an instant. When it does, it should be reported. With social and mobile media, you can report it instantly. If you already have personal accounts, open a new, professional account to share news.
  • Complete current events quizzes.
  • Complete open-book, take-home Associated Press Style quizzes.
  • Complete grammar quizzes. Grammar matters in good writing.
  • Complete reading assignments and submit questions about the reading.
  • Attend the weekly news planning sessions. Attendance will be taken.
  • Successfully complete a midterm and final examination.
  • Assemble an online portfolio of your published stories.

I’ll run this class as if it were a real newsroom. I am the city editor; you are the reporters. We can have strong opinions and disagreements as long as they’re expressed with respect for others’ views. Reporters often challenge city editors and this class should be no different. Conversely, expect your colleagues and me to challenge you. You must be able to take and dish out constructive criticism.


Submit stories to me using email. All emailed stories should be written on Microsoft Word software. I am not responsible for stories lost because of system failures in your computer, the email network or in my computer.

Because the editors of the Owl or Doaneline, at their discretion, might publish your story, you must send a copy of your news story to the Owl and Doaneline.

All stories must begin with a slug, the story’s identification. The slug should look like this:

student’s last name/date story is due/story assignment/any art — photograph, graph, chart, drawing, etc.

For example: Swartzlander/Sept. 11/obit/photo (student’s last name/date story is due/story assignment/any art available).

Please put these slugs at the top of your story and in the subject box of the email.


Deadlines must be met. Stories are due as soon as you have the information. For breaking news, post on Facebook and tweet it immediately, and be prepared to submit a brief story within three hours of the event. Send the full story within six hours of the event. Feature stories are due at noon Monday. Missing deadline results in an F for that assignment.


Stories are graded on a 30-point scale.

WARNING: A factual error, such as misspelling someone’s name, will result in an automatic 10-point deduction from your score. A gross special error, such as a potentially libelous statement, plagiarism, fabrication, etc., will result in an automatic F for the class. Reporters must get the facts right. The first rule of journalism is to spell names correctly. I reserve the right to deduct points for accuracy errors if I discover an error after I’ve graded the story.

Students are required to set up weekly conferences with me to review stories. The conferences will take about 20 minutes/story. You may sign up for a time that fits your schedule. I will use Google Drive to share available times with you. If all of the times are taken, make an appointment with me. The conferences are required. They will provide immediate feedback about your reporting and writing. All story conferences will be in the my office, Gaylord 105. Feel free to take notes during the conferences. Failure to attend conferences will result in a failing grade.

Your semester grade will be computed from the required stories; photos/videos; social media posts; AP, current events and grammar quizzes; questions from reading the chapters; the midterm and final exams, and your portfolio. You can earn a total of 1,100 points, not counting extra credit work or any assigned homework. The point breakdown is:

Stories: 390 points or 35 percent.

Story ideas/Owl meeting : 60 points or 5 percent.

Midterm: 100 points or 9 percent.

Photos: 50 points or 5 percent

Social media posts: 50 points or 5 percent

AP quizzes: 50 points or 5 percent.

Grammar quizzes: 50 points or 5 percent.

Current events quizzes: 50 points or 5 percent.

Chapter readings/questions: 50 points or 5 percent.

Portfolio: 100 points or 9 percent.

Final: 150 points or 14 percent.

Total: 1,100 points

990–1,100 = A

880–989 = B

770–879 = C

660–769 = D

659 or less = F

I do not give + or — grades.
Students must adhere to professional standards, meet deadlines and follow rules of punctuation, grammar, spelling and style. Be forewarned. I am a tough grader. Strive for high-quality work.

Your stories will be graded using a rubric, a formalized procedure that will help me be more objective in determining your grade. The rubric is listed as a sidebar to the syllabus.


Your reporting and storytelling should be appropriate for publishing by a professional news organization. The emphasis is on quality stories, not how long the story is. You’ll want to tell your story concisely and accurately using multiple sources. The goal is to tell a comprehensive story in as short a space or time as possible.

Though concise, your stories should contain details to tell the reader the 5Ws of a story — who, what, where, when, why — as well as how and so what. You will be penalized for omitting important facts.

Stories must follow Associated Press style and contain correct English. Get to know your AP Stylebook. Errors of spelling, punctuation, grammar and style will result in the loss of points and a lower grade. Typos are considered spelling errors. Use a dictionary.

The required stories are:

An obituary. About your professor.

A rewrite of a press release. Call Doane’s Office of Strategic Communications, Student Activities Council or the Sports Information Director to ask for a press release that you can rewrite. Get a press release of an event that will happen in the future, not something that already happened. Do NOT go to the offices mentioned without calling first.

A speech story. Attend a speech or news conference and tell a story about the event. Also, a great opportunity for social media.

A meeting story. Attend a meeting to write a news story about the event. Again, a good option for posting news on social media.

A localization. Find a national angle — gasoline prices, for example — and localize it by asking Doane students, faculty and staff what they think about the issue or what they intend to do about it.

A sports story. Attend a Doane sporting event to tell its story. Or provide an advance about the next game, telling fans what to look for, how Doane will approach its opponent, whether the coach is happy with the team’s play and/or how a significant member of a team is preparing for the upcoming game. Another excellent chance to use social media.

A crime story, including accidents, disasters, fires and courts. Go to the scene, get records of crimes or accidents or attend a court proceeding to tell the story. Or develop a feature story about crime. Questions could include: What crimes are Doane students committing? What percentage of Crete criminal activity is related to Doane? What students, faculty or administrators have been cited for criminal behavior? What was the disposition of their cases? Is there a location on campus or in the community where criminal activity is often found? What disciplinary measures do students face when convicted of a crime or when brought before the disciplinary councils?

Note: This will involve some extra work. It cannot be done overnight. Plan. Make contacts early. Don’t procrastinate. Yet another perfect story to tweet news.

A multicultural/gender awareness story. Get information about a minority cultural group on campus or in Crete and write a story about the cultural challenges the group or its members experience. Or, write about issues or problems facing the opposite sex or regarding sexual preference issues. The story must be supported by adequate amounts of research and it must be in good taste.

A personality profile. Find a newsworthy person on campus to write about what makes that person tick.

A feature story. This story should entertain and inform. It should let the actions and comments of people carry the story. It should contain human interest.

General assignment story. Any story that’s of interest to you and to the university community.

An in-depth story. You select a topic or issue of significant interest to college students. Interview faculty, staff, students and community leaders or townspeople about their views. It could be an investigative story or an enthralling feature. Your story should have at least six sources. Get anecdotal information to bring the topic to life. Include national, local, state and/or Doane statistics where available. Package it into a powerful and moving story.

Note: Avoid issues in which you are involved. For example, the president of an organization should not write about that group. This assignment will be graded on a 60-point scale. Don’t procrastinate.

After the first story, the assignments can be completed in any order. The stories above are listed from the simplest to the most complex. In class, we’ll discuss how to approach each story.

If you wish, you may submit two ledes on any story. Please label one of the two versions “experimental.” I’ll grade both, but record only the higher of the two grades.


You have the right to rewrite or retell assignments to raise your grade. Rewrites must be submitted no later than one week after the story is returned to you with a grade. A rewrite submitted later than that will not be accepted. Rewrite slugs should be: student name/date/story/art/rewrite. Place the slug on the top of your story.

Rewrites will not be accepted during finals week or the week before finals.


I’ve listed expectations of you, now here is what you can expect from me:

1. I will care about you as a student and a person.

2. I will conduct class as scheduled every day, including being prompt and prepared.

3. If class will be cancelled, I will notify you by email before class is to begin unless I’m responding to an emergency.

4. In most instances, my office door will be open and I welcome students to talk to me, even if it’s not during office hours.

5. I am available by phone either in my office or at home except between the hours of 9 p.m.-7 a.m. because I am asleep at those times or preparing to come to work. Of course, I should be contacted for emergencies no matter the time of day.

6. I will accept calls on the weekend, but please limit those calls to emergency status so that I can enjoy time with my family.

7. I will gladly accept from students any constructive ideas at any time about how to improve this class.


Journalists have only one thing to offer — credibility. Making things up — such as quotes, people in stories and facts — or stealing the words of another writer or failing to give proper attribution to information obtained from other sources are deadly sins in journalism. If you engage in academic dishonesty — including plagiarism and fabrication — you immediately will fail the course and could be penalized to the fullest extent allowed under Doane University policy.


Students with disabilities substantially limiting a major life activity are eligible for reasonable accommodations in college programs, including this course. Accommodations provide equal opportunity to obtain the same level of achievement while maintaining the standards of excellence of the university. If you have a disability that may interfere with your participation or performance in this course, please meet with me to discuss disability-related accommodations and other special learning needs.


Reporters normally don’t get extra credit, but you can. Here’s how:
1. Write extra stories. You can get a maximum of 30 extra points per story by producing more than 12 stories. You may earn a maximum of 150 points.

2. Produce online story packages, with story and visual elements such as photos, video, audio, etc. Worth 30 points/package. You can earn a maximum of 150 points by producing online story packages.

3. Get your work published in a commercial newspaper. Turn in a clipping with your byline for 30 extra points.

4. Copy Edit the World. You can earn two points for an error (typographical, incorrect word usage, ambiguous wording, incorrect grammar and punctuation or other) found in a publication intended for general public circulation, such as a newspaper, magazine or website. You may hand in examples until the last day of class (the week before finals week). I am the final arbiter on what counts as an acceptable submission. Examples submitted must identify the error, say what’s wrong and show how you’d correct the error. This is not a group project. I reserve the right to change the rules as I see fit. Include the original clippings with date and page number when you turn in the corrections.


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