JMC 3023 syllabus

Feature Writing, Fall 2016

Instructor: Seth Prince
Class: 10:30–12:20 M/W in Gaylord 1030 unless otherwise noted
Office hours: By appointment, Copeland 168A (inside The Oklahoma Daily)
Contact:, @seth_prince, 405.325.6334

The goal of this class is to help you write the best nonfiction features of your career to date and in doing so to learn broader storytelling takeaways of benefit in your upcoming professional life.

In doing so we will dispel any notion that feature writing is at the easy end of the journalism spectrum, and instead make clear that the best of this type of work relies on more fully developed reporting skills coupled with advanced writing tools. We’ll dive into real-world written and broadcast examples, discussions about and reporting of several basic types of features: Q&A, essay, profile/obituary, human interest and trend. In addition, you will research and interview one of your favorite writers to understand his or her career path and the story behind a great story. Also, to develop experience with the marketing of stories, you will write a resume and pitch letter that you would send to an editor you would like to purchase your work.

Three things are essential for success in this course: A creative and collaborative approach, a dedicated work ethic and diligent time-management skills.

Like a professional newsroom, our classroom meetings will be discussion oriented and students will be expected — and graded on their willingness — to consistently contribute to that conversation. Our discussion will stress the importance of understanding your audience, generating original story ideas, developing interviewing and reporting skills, experimenting with story structure and, finally, refining writing techniques such as tension, action, dialog, detail and character development to generate fully-formed, digital-era features.

To experiment with new platforms for writing, editing, collaboration and ultimately publishing, we will write and edit in Google Drive, communicate via Slack (team name JMC3023) and then publish on Medium. After peer and instructor editing creates a fully formed and graded product, whenever possible we will aim to get our stories published to broader audiences, be it via OU Daily, Sooner yearbook or off-campus outlets. We also will explore the long-tail, digital arc that features can have via metrics as well as social media tools and discuss how to capitalize on those as writers after our work is published.

You will be graded on eight equally weighted 250-point assignments/components of your work and contributions to the course:

1. Participation. 
2. Essay. 
3. Q&A. 
4. Profile/Obituary. 
5. Human interest. 
6. Trend. 
7. Pitch letter/resume. 
8. Story behind the story.

Completing peer reviews and visiting office hours will improve work but not guarantee top grades. Finding your errors is your responsibility. There is no extra credit. Letter grades are based on:

A. Excellent. Publishable with little or no revision. The concept being conveyed to an audience is clear, well organized and well conceived. The information is complete and in context. Only minor style, grammar errors.

B. Good. Publishable with minor revision. The concept being conveyed to an audience is satisfactory and demonstrates a basic understanding of media principles. The information is well developed and contextual; limited style, grammar or mechanical errors.

C. Average. Publishable with moderate revision, additional information gathering and/or copy editing. Meets minimum assignment requirements.

D. Poor. Publishable only with substantial revision. Lacks focus, clarity, structure; incomplete information and context; significant style, grammar or mechanical errors; some basic assignment requirements missing.

F. Failing. Unpublishable. Fact error(s). Fails basic assignment requirements.

Some examples of top work produced in previous semesters of this class:

Essay: On leaving home

Profile: Catherine James

Human interest: How SAE fueled an OU turnaround

Trend: Athletic department monitors social media

Media professionals are expected to be on time, prepared and engaged, and so will be members of our class. Unless excused, failure to do so will lower your overall grade. Arrange to stay on track if you know you will be absent.

Deadlines. Just like media professionals, you will face frequent and firm deadlines. Late work, unless excused, is penalized one letter grade per weekday.

Fact errors. To model the paramount importance of media accuracy in an upper-division course, fact errors on any final version result in an automatic 50% assignment grade reduction.

Academic integrity. Honesty and trust are bedrock media ethics and the foundation of this course. Per OU’s Faculty Handbook, academic misconduct includes:

  • Cheating. “Use of unauthorized materials, methods or information in any academic exercise, including improper collaboration.”
  • Plagiarism. “Representation of the words and ideas of another as one’s own.”
  • Fabrication. “Falsification or invention of any information or citation in an academic exercise.”
  • Fraud. “Falsification, forgery or misrepresentation of academic work, including the resubmission of work performed in one class for credit in another class.”
  • Ignorance. “I did not know (transgression) was cheating” is not an excuse.
  • Underestimate the seriousness of this at your peril. Your instructor’s bullshit detector is well developed, and I will routinely fact-check your work and call your sources. Any student guilty of these or other forms of dishonesty will get a zero on the assignment in question, possibly fail the class and likely be reported to OU’s Integrity Council.

Special needs. If you have any, notify me immediately. I will make every possible accommodation to give you the opportunity to succeed in this class.