Beat Reporting


CMM 213/ENG 213 

David Swartzlander 
 Class location: 130 Gaylord Hall (though we may move it to my office).
 Instructor’s office: 105 Gaylord Hall 
 Office phone: 826–8269 
 Home phone: 643–5135
 Instructor’s email address:
 Online course address:

Office Hours: 
MW: 9:30–11 a.m.; 2:30–3:30 p.m.

TTh: 9:30–11 a.m.

Or by appointment


AP Stylebook

Field Guide to Covering Local News, Fred Bayles, Sage/CQ Press, 2012 or later.

The Art of Access, David Cuillier and Charles N. Davis, Sage/CQ Press, 2011 or later

Two notebooks, one to take notes during class and another for interviewing and reporting. I strongly encourage you to use an audio recorder for interviews. 
A binder for class handouts, assignments, etc. 
A dictionary and thesaurus

An audio recorder

A camera or a cell phone that shoots photos
A grammar style guide. I recommend “A Writer’s Resource,” by Elaine P. Maimon and Janice H. Peritz, McGraw Hill
I will teach this class using my website, Your grades can be found in Blackboard. Please become familiar with the online course by visiting the site and touring it. The syllabus for this class is included on the website. 
This course is designed for students who have taken basic news writing and reporting and are ready to expand their journalistic education into a more in-depth class about the process of reporting and writing the news, including the beat system of reporting. You will learn by reading, studying, questioning, discussing and practicing journalism. You will learn how to report, interview, write and revise news stories. You will cover a beat and write stories for The Doane Owl and/or Doaneline. You will learn how to use public documents to investigate a story. You also will learn how to write opinion pieces, including reviews, columns or editorials. You will post to Twitter, shoot photos and write blogs. You will produce investigative stories.

All stories written for this class will not only be written for academic credit but also for possible publication in the student newspaper, The Doane Owl, or the student news Web site, Doaneline. This is not a guarantee that your stories will be used in either publication, only to make it clear for whom you are writing. The Owl and Doaneline editors make all decisions about the content of those two publications. They have the right to edit your work for their use and their editing may or may not match my editing and/or grading evaluation. I grade your work.

Course objectives:

Students will:

  • Understand the intent and purpose of writing in-depth news stories and the investigative reporting process.
  • Learn how to move beyond the inverted pyramid and produce longer, more substantive stories with greater impact.
  • Improve research and interviewing skills.
  • Learn how to use public records and documents.
  • Improve overall writing skills by honing creative writing techniques that can be applied to and enhance nonfiction/journalistic work.
  • Develop skills associated with computer-assisted reporting and digital storytelling.
  • Learn how the beat system works and examine issues associated with covering a beat.
  • Learn how to write opinion pieces.

Students are required to:

  • Cover a beat — an assigned area on which you will report — and write stories on which you will be graded. Be prepared to write more than one story a week if the news on your beat requires it. You should expect to write at least one in-depth story on your beat, which will be worth twice the points of a daily beat story. Your stories should be of interest to Doane students, faculty and staff. Stories also must include at least three sources and relevant links. You must submit your stories to the Owl and/or Doaneline as well as to me. Failure to do so will mean a letter-grade deduction.
  • Complete chapter quizzes
  • Complete an individual investigative project that focuses on the use of public documents.
  • Complete a team-oriented investigative journalism project. The project will involve working with other reporters so systems and processes must be organized and well executed.
  • Write a blog about your beat, making it clear that you have met most of the news sources on your beat and that you are developing an expertise for the subject matter. The blog should be updated at least three times a week.
  • Shoot and submit 10 photos to accompany stories.
  • Post at least 10 tweets about your beat.
  • Attend and actively participate in the weekly news planning session. Submit story ideas on your beat to The Doane Owl and Doaneline editors.
  • Write one opinion piece about a current event or issue. Your opinion piece should avoid topics on your beat.
  • Write one review of a live or recorded performance.
  • Assemble an online portfolio of your work.

Important note: You are to complete at least one story a week. I will grade no more than two stories in any week. Do not expect to receive credit for writing for than two stories during the last week of the semester.

Think of the classroom as a 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.

Deadlines must be met. I will be impatient with excuses. Stories are due immediately. Breaking news should be reported immediately upon verification via Twitter and/or Facebook and be updated continually. Stories of events, such as a speaker or sporting events, should be written and are due three hours after the event. The outcome of the event should be tweeted immediately and posted on Facebook. Failure to meet deadline results in a zero for the story.

Only on rare occasions will deadlines be pushed back. There will be no penalty if you have a legitimate college-excused absence, such as a medical excuse, that can be supported with appropriate paperwork.

Attendance is mandatory, in class and at the weekly news planning session.

Stories are to be submitted to me by email. I am not responsible for stories lost because of system failures in your computer, the email network or in my computer. 
Always save your story and print a hard copy of it before you send it electronically. You must have a hard copy in case there are questions about your electronically mailed story. 
Please type your story in Microsoft Word and send it as an attachment. If your computer is not equipped with Word, use one of the college’s computers or cut and paste the story into the message portion of the e-mail that you send. Or share it as a Google document.

Always place your slug at the top of the story and in the subject line of the e-mail message you send.

Stories are graded on a 20-point scale, based on the following rubric:

Grading will be accomplished through a “coaching” conference system. You are expected to meet with me for 15–30 minutes each week to discuss your story’s strengths and weaknesses. The conferences are required.

The following are the point totals assigned to each letter grade:

A = 18–20 points. Ready for publication with little or no editing. The story is newsworthy and interesting to read. It is complete. A news organization would be eager to publish it. 
B = 16–17 points. With editing and minor changes, the story would be publishable. It is well done but not exceptional. 
C = 14–15 points. Requires changes and/or additional information for it to be publishable. This is adequate work. 
D = 12–13 points. This story has numerous errors, many of them serious, indicating the student has not grasped the journalistic lessons. 
F = 11 points or fewer. Story is unacceptable because it contains so many factual, writing and/or reporting errors that it represents a total lack of professional skill. It is confusing to read, incomplete or contains a libelous statement or serious factual error. It would not be published by any news organization nor easily rewritten. 
WARNING: Factual accuracy — beginning with correctly spelled names of people, places, organizations and institutions and ending with accurately calculated and reported quantitative and qualitative findings — is of the utmost importance in news writing. Factual errors will significantly affect a grade and the reputation of any news organization disseminating the report. Reporters must get the facts right. The first rule of journalism is to spell names correctly. 
Your semester grade will be computed from the beat stories you write, the investigative stories, the opinion pieces, photos, blogs and Tweets. 
You can earn a total of 1,000 points. I reserve the right to add, delete or modify assignments according to time constraints and the availability of resources.

The point breakdown is: 
Beat Stories (includes 40-point beat indepth story): 280 points or 28 percent.

Quizzes on readings: 100 points or 10 percent.

Blog: 100 points or 10 percent.

Photos: 50 points or 5percent.

Twitter: 50 points or 5 percent
Opinion piece: 30 points or 3 percent 
Review: 30 points or 3 percent 
Individual investigative story: 120 points or 12 percent.

Team investigative story: 120 points or 12 percent

Online portfolio: 120 points or 10 percent.

Students must adhere to professional standards — meet deadlines, follow rules of punctuation, grammar, spelling and style. Be forewarned — I am a tough grader. 
At the end of the semester, all points will be totaled and grades will be determined using the grading criteria. 
 The following grading system will be used: 
 A = 900–1,000 points 
 B = 800–899
 C = 700–799 
 D = 600–699
 F = 599 or lower 
Each student will be given a beat during the first day of class. Your job will be to cover that beat and write stories based on your reporting from that beat. Getting beat on a story by the competition — The Crete News, The Lincoln Journal Star, Omaha World-Herald, radio or TV news or an online news organization — will result in an F for that story. Getting beat twice by the competition in one semester means you will fail the course.


Students are required to keep an online portfolio of their work and to submit it at the end of the semester. You should have a portfolio of stories, edits, designs, audio and video that you can show to employers when you graduate from Doane. It will benefit you to create an online portfolio.

Your stories can be rewritten to raise your grade. Rewrites must be turned in 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. Rewrites will not be accepted the last week of class or during finals week. 
Journalists have only one thing to offer: credibility. Making things up — quotes, people in stories, facts — and 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, fabrication and cheating — you will fail this course and I will report you to the college, using all the tools in my power to get you expelled from the institution.

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 college. 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.


The Writing Center is a resource available to all Crete campus Doane University students. I recommend visits to all writers. All writers can benefit from a conversation with a reader. Located in the Learning Commons in the Communications Building, the center provides an opportunity for any student—at any stage of the writing process — to have an open conversation with a writing consultant. Consultants are students from different disciplines and backgrounds. They are ready to hear your questions and concerns about your writing, to read your writing, and to ask you questions that could help you discover your opportunities and voice as a writer. To get started:

Here’s how you get extra credit: 
1. Write extra stories. You can get a maximum of 20 points per story by writing extra stories. The maximum number of points earned through extra credit stories is 140. 
2. Get your work published in a commercial newspaper. Turn in a clipping with your byline for 20 extra points. 
3. Copy Edit the World. 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 journalism Web site. You may hand in examples until the last day of class. You can earn an unlimited amount of points. 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 deem necessary. Include the original clippings with date and page number when you turn in the corrections.