Com 425: Feature Writing



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COM 425: Feature Writing

Fall 2009

TR 5:00–6:15 p.m., Rowland 206




Prof. Stephanie A. Witmer Office: Rowland 126

Phone: 717-477-1525 E-mail: snanderson@ship.edu

Course Website: http://blackboard.ship.edu (Bb)

Office Hours: Tues., 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. & 3:30-4:30 p.m.; Wed., 11 a.m.–noon





Required Texts & Materials:

(1) Literary Journalism, by Norman Sims & Mark Kramer (ISBN: 978-0345382221) (LJ)

(2) The New Kings of Nonfiction, by Ira Glass (ISBN: 9781594482670) (NKON)

(3) The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook (ISBN: 9780465004898)


Also: A thumb drive for drafts, research and interview notes; legal pads or reporter notebooks; manila folders for story files; hand-held tape or digital recorder (not required)


Course Description: This course focuses on specialized writing for magazines. It also offers instruction and practice in the type of research essential to the writing and publication of feature articles. The primary goal of the course is to teach students how to write and sell professional-quality feature stories in hopes of publishing them.

COM 425 is an advanced writing course. Very strong journalistic writing skills are necessary. Only students who have a serious interest in writing professionally should enroll in this course. All students must have successfully completed COM 112 (Media Writing) before taking this course. Though it’s not required, students who have taken News Writing & Reporting or who have written for The Slate or other outlets will be at a distinct advantage in the course. This course does not teach the basics of news writing or reporting; you should already have experience or taken a class that has taught journalistic writing.

COM 425 requires excellent writing and editing skills, and knowledge of AP style. A strong work ethic, lots of ideas, curiosity and creativity are also vital to your success in this course. Good feature writers must be persistent, motivated, creative and perpetually curious. The best feature writers love reading, writing, traveling, finding answers to questions, and learning and trying new things. They’re open to new experiences, are outgoing and willing to pursue a story.
Writers, particularly journalists, enter into an unspoken contract with the reader. The reader reads your work because he hopes you will teach him something he didn’t know, shed light on an aspect of life previously unseen by him, and entertain him—and do so truthfully and ethically. Feature writing requires an ability to tell a story, to paint a picture with words. You will be rewarded for taking risks and telling good stories, even if they aren’t 100% successful. Even the best writers had to start somewhere—and most of them started in a college course like this one.
COM 425 will take up a good deal of your time, so if you aren’t dedicated to this course, you will not do well. That said, if you aren’t afraid of hard work, you will learn a great deal and will most likely publish a story in a newspaper, magazine or website.

Learning Objectives:

Students who successfully complete this course will:

• Learn the principles and practices of feature writing

• Read examples of feature stories from the masters of the craft

• Understand differences between feature stories & other journalistic writing

• Exhibit strong news judgment

• Develop story ideas, engage in research and conduct interviews

• Practice accuracy and thoroughness in reporting and writing

• Write clear, concise, informative and creative feature stories

• Tell stories with a clear narrative structures that both entertain and inform

• Learn how to revise and edit feature stories

• Write query letters and pitch a story to a magazine, newspaper or website

• Learn about the business of magazines and freelance writing, and ethical concerns

Professional Values and Competencies for C/J Majors & Minors:

The Communication/Journalism Department faculty sets the goal of developing within each student the following core professional values and competencies as defined by the Accrediting Council for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (ACEJMC): [competencies addressed in this course are in bold]



1. Understand and apply First Amendment principles and the law appropriate to professional practice.

2. Demonstrate an understanding of the history and role of professionals and institutions in shaping communications.

3. Demonstrate an understanding of the diversity of groups in a global society in relationship to communications.

4. Work ethically in pursuit of truth, accuracy, fairness and diversity.

5. Think critically, creatively and independently.

6. Conduct research and gather information by methods appropriate to the communications professions in which they work.

7. Write correctly and clearly in forms and styles appropriate for the communications professions, audiences and purposes they serve.

8. Critically evaluate their own work and that of others for grammatical correctness, appropriate style, clarity, accuracy and fairness.

9. Understand concepts and apply theories in the use and presentation of images and information.

10. Apply basic numerical and statistical concepts.


11. Apply tools and technologies appropriate for the communications professions in which they work.

American Disabilities Act (ADA) Statement: Students with disabilities are not required by law to identify themselves to Shippensburg University and the Office of Disability Services. However, if a student desires accommodations, the student is obligated to complete the necessary forms and provide disability documentation at the time other requests are made. It is the policy of Shippensburg University to accommodate students with disabilities, pursuant to federal law, state law, and the University’s commitment to equal education opportunities. Students with disabilities are encouraged to contact the Office of Disability Services, located in 120 Horton Hall, or via phone at 717-477-1329.
Learning Center Resources: If you feel you need extra help to improve your academic performance in this course or any of your other courses, please consider making an appointment with a tutor or learning specialist in the Learning Center (LC). The LC is located on the lower level of Lehman Library, right below Starbucks, and can also be reached at 717-477-1420.

Assignments, Requirements & Responsibilities:

Readings & Story Analyses: We will learn about the craft of feature writing and read examples from the masters of the form. Students should always come to class prepared to thoroughly discuss the assigned readings and practice “active reading” by highlighting, taking notes, and jotting down questions or thoughts to prepare for our discussions. There will be occasional activities revolving around the readings, including written analyses of stories. Bring stories with you to class on discussion days so you can easily reference them.

In-Class Writing & Revising: As this is a writing class, we will be doing lots of writing exercises intended to stoke ideas and creativity, as well as working on drafts and revisions of stories. Every student should carry an updated copy of the piece he/she is working on a thumb drive or in your personal file space at all times. If you fail to have a current copy of your story with you, you will be marked absent for the day. If you can’t participate, it’s as if you’re not even present in class.
Feature Stories: You will write three original feature stories this semester:


  1. 1,000-word “local business” feature

  2. 1,500–2,000–word profile

  3. 2,500–3,000–word magazine feature (due final exam week)


Query Letter: Editors won’t come looking for you—you have to pitch them with your story ideas. Query letters are your audition—they demonstrate your writing caliber and understanding of what makes a good story. You will pitch one of your stories to a newspaper, magazine or website. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a response. If you’re very lucky, you’ll get published! Writing effective query letters is an essential component to landing work in this field. You’ll write one of these as part of your final project for the course.

Story Files: All work for this course must be original and accurate. Source information and interview notes must be turned in with each story. Students are expected to take copious notes during interviews. All taped interviews must be transcribed into a computer file and printed, and the tapes saved. All notes, research, rough drafts, etc., should be compiled into an organized and thorough story file. All journalists make files for their stories, and sometimes editors ask to see these files for fact-checking or legal purposes. You’ll turn in a complete story file in a manila folder with every feature story you write for this course. All files will be returned to you with your graded stories. Failure to turn in your notes will result in an automatic F for the assignment. Story files that are incomplete will lower your grade significantly.

Attendance/Participation: Attendance in this course is mandatory. Students are expected to attend all classes and to be on time and prepared. You may miss 3 classes throughout the semester without penalty. Missing more than 3 classes will result in the lowering of your final grade by one letter grade. Tardiness exceeding 10 minutes counts as an absence. Students are expected to participate, as well. It’s not enough to just show up. Be engaged. Share your ideas and thoughts. This class is a community—you’re all in this together, with the shared goal of becoming better writers. If you miss class, it’s your responsibility to make up any work and to figure out what you missed in class.


Classroom Policies:

Editing, Accuracy & Rewrites: Accuracy is the cornerstone of journalism, and will be taken very seriously in this class. Students should edit their work very carefully and ask others (classmates, friends, etc.) to read their copy before turning it in. Points will be deducted for errors (spelling, grammar, AP style, typos, biased language, etc.). Students will be permitted only three AP style errors for each assignment without penalty. If more than 10 errors are found, the story will be returned to the student for rewriting. Students will have only one opportunity to rewrite a story—after that, the story will receive an F. All rewrites are due the next class period. It is imperative that professional writers turn in flawless drafts to their editors. If you turn in work that’s full of errors, you lose credibility and won’t get hired again. If grammar and mechanics are especially difficult for you, please visit Learning Center for extra help. Be sure to consult your AP Stylebook to make sure abbreviations, ages, dates, etc., are correct.

If your story contains a major fact error, such as flawed or incorrect information (e.g., misspelling someone’s name, giving them the wrong title, misquoting them, etc.), you will receive an automatic F for the story. Be sure to fact-check before turning in your story.
Plagiarism & Fabrication of Facts: Passing off someone else’s work as your own or making up facts results in the loss of both credibility and employment in the real world, and will result in an automatic F for the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will also be reported to the Office of Student Affairs. All quotes and research information must be included in your notes for the story. If it’s missing from the story file, I can only assume it was fabricated.
Deadlines & Late Work: Deadlines are not negotiable, nor are they mere suggestions. There is no excuse for late work. Late or missed work will not be accepted, and will automatically receive a 0. This class will be time-consuming, so plan accordingly. DO NOT PROCRASTINATE. All work must be printed and ready to turn in at the beginning of class, not being printed in the lab as class starts, or else it will be considered late. E-mailed work will not be accepted without prior permission from the instructor.

Professionalism & Courtesy: Writers are indebted to their sources for providing them with valuable information needed to complete their stories—and to their editors for providing them with work. They are doing you a favor, not the other way around. You must meet with interview subjects at the time and place that is most convenient to them, not to you. This means that you may need to do interviews in the evenings, early in the morning, or on the weekends. That is the life of a journalist—do what you need to do to get your story without complaint. You must correspond with sources and editors professionally—no slang or unprofessional language in e-mails, for instance. There is no excuse for showing up to an interview late or ill prepared, or for being rude to a subject. There is no excuse for missing a deadline. If I receive reports of any bad behavior from a source or an editor, you will automatically receive an F for the assignment.

Classroom Etiquette: Students should be respectful to each other and to the instructor at all times. Be on time and be prepared. The use of cell phones or MP3 players in class is strictly prohibited. Also, the computers in the lab are used for writing, research and class activities only—no checking sports scores, Facebook, e-mail or doing work for other courses once class has begun.
Story Format: All stories should follow manuscript format (see below) and be typed in black ink on white 8 ½ x 11 paper. Stories should be double-spaced and indented. All stories must include a slug and a working title. No separate title pages. Use the letters “TK” to denote missing (but forthcoming!) information (e.g., He was born on DATE TK.). All TKs must be filled in on final drafts. Points will be deducted for not using the proper format, for not including a slug or title, or for not filling in TKs.

Manuscript format (top left corner of the first page):

YOUR NAME

ADDRESS

PHONE NUMBER & E-MAIL



WORD COUNT

SLUG
TITLE





Evaluation & Grading Policy:
Your final grade in COM 425 will be based on the three feature stories, story analyses and other assignments, and attendance/participation. Students are expected to pitch and publish at least one story to The Slate or other newspaper, magazine or website.

3 feature stories = 60%

Homework/in-class work/story analyses = 20%

Attendance/participation = 15%

Publication requirement = 5%

Grading Procedures: Feature stories will be assigned a letter grade, according to a 4.0 scale.
4.0 = A 2.25-2.5 = C+

3.75 = A- 2.0 = C

3.25­-3.5 = B+ 1.75 = C-

3.0 = B 1.25-1.5 = D+

2.75 = B- 1.0 = D

less than 1.0 = F


A/A- = Superior work that is publishable as is. No errors. Shows a superior command of facts, news judgment, organization, AP style, reporting and writing. Engaging title and lead and a good kicker. Strong and correctly attributed quotes. Correct format and length. Clear news values. Sophisticated, stylish writing.

B+/B/B- = Good work that could be published with some revision. Lacks one or more of the qualities of an A story.

C/C/C- = An average story. May be informative, but not very interesting or entertaining to read. Some basic organizational or writing problems.

D+/D/D- = A poor piece. Lacks fundamental judgment and/or writing skills. May have a minor fact error or major spelling or grammatical errors. Omits two or more important facts (story is not complete). Major problems of organization and language usage. Fails to meet basic writing and/or journalistic standards. Needs substantial editing, rewriting and reorganization.

F = Unacceptable work. Too many fundamental problems to be easily read and understood. Fails to meet a deadline or may not have an accompanying story file. Contains a major fact error.

Semester Schedule (subject to change; see Assignments page on Blackboard for more detailed explanation of schedule)


Week 1 (Sept. 1 & 3)

—Introduction to the course; what is feature writing?

—Review of AP style; principles of news writing & literary journalism

—Story analysis & discussion: Sims, “The Art of Literary Journalism” & Kramer, “Breakable Rules …”(both in LJ)


Week 2 (Sept. 8 & 10)

—Brainstorming & finding good story ideas; news values & judgment

—Preliminary research & writing the story proposal

Feature #1: Local business feature proposal due


Week 3 (Sept. 15 & 17)

—Interviewing and preparation

—Writing in scenes

—Story analysis & discussion: Bissinger, “Gone Like the Wind” & Elliott, “A Muslim Leader in Brooklyn” (both on Bb)


Week 4 (Sept. 22 & 24)

Peer review of Feature #1 (bring 2 completed drafts to class)

Feature #2: Profile proposal due

— Writing good leads


Week 5 (Sept. 29 & Oct. 1)

Feature #1 + story file due

—Story analysis & discussion: Orlean, “The American Man, Age 10” (LJ) & Junod, “Can You Say … Hero?” (Bb)

—Framing the story

Week 6 (Oct. 6 & 8)

—Characterization

—Story analysis & discussion: Gladwell, “Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg” (NKON) & Junod, “The Falling Man” (Bb)

Week 7 (Oct 13 & 15)

—Fall Break: No class Tues.

Peer review of Feature #2 (bring 2 completed drafts to class)
Week 8 (Oct. 20 & 22)

Feature #2 + story file due

Feature #3 proposal due

—Story analysis & discussion: Buford, “Among the Thugs” (NKON) & Kidder, “Memory” (LJ)


Week 9 (Oct. 27 & 29)

—Different types of literary journalism: immersion, gonzo, first-person, etc.

—Integrating fiction & poetry techniques

—Description & imagery


Week 10 (Nov. 3 & 5)

—Description & imagery

—Choosing the right word

—Story analysis & discussion: Orlean, “The Maui Surfer Girls” (Bb)


Week 11 (Nov. 10 & 12)

—Story analysis & discussion: LeBlanc, “Trina and Trina” and Pollan, “Power Steer”


Week 12 (Nov. 17 & 19)

—Pitching & selling your work

—Ethical concerns

—Read & discuss sample query letters (hand-out or on Bb)


Week 13 (Nov. 24 & 26)

—In-class writing/research + story conference

—Thanksgiving Break: No class Thurs.

Week 14 (Dec. 1 & 3)

Query letters due

—Revision

Week 15 (Dec. 8 & 10)

Peer review of Feature #3 (bring 2 drafts to class)

—In-class writing/revision
Week 16 (Dec. 15 & 17)

—Final Exam Week



Feature #3 + story file due








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