LARGEMOUTH: A Citizen Journalism Syllabus

Presented by Douglas McGill
H: 507-535-0951 C: 507-398-2182

Sponsored by
The Resource Center of the Americas
3019 Minnehaha Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55406
St. Paul, MN

The following is a syllabus for the Largemouth Citizen Journalism workshop, a six-week citizen journalism training program. The course teaches the essential journalism skills needed to write stories for newspapers, newsletters, magazines, and the Internet in a way that focuses public attention on important social issues. The course is taught once each spring and fall at the Resource Center of the Americas, a human rights nonprofit in Minneapolis, MN.

Connecting traditional journalism skills and ethics, which create compelling and credible stories, to the powerful new Internet modes to distribute these stories, gives civic-minded individuals and not-for-profit groups unprecedented power to tell their stories in a way that gains public support.

The Largemouth Citizen Journalism Training Manual is available here.

The course is taught in three-hour sessions taught on six successive Tuesday evenings from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., with a 15-minute break from 7 to 7:15 p.m. One article per week is assigned to students in the class, and each session is structured around feedback given by the instructor and other students in class to the assigned articles. Most classes also include a visit and presentation given by a professional journalist from a Minnesota newspaper, magazine, radio or TV station.

The six sequenced lessons include several weekly reading assignments and one writing assignment. As this is a workshop class, one of the assigned readings each week will focus on practical techniques while the others, which we won’t get a chance to discuss much in class, are offered as an introduction to ideas in media and press criticism that you may find useful as background. During the course, participants will write three stories for publication on the Internet.

The only required text is the Associated Press Stylebook which includes a briefing on media law. It costs about $15 and is available at most B&N’s. Other required reading will be made available in handout, e-mail, and Web site form.
Strongly suggested, as it’s a classic text that I quote often in class, is “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr., and E.B. White.

You need to have access to a computer between classes. If you have a laptop with wireless capability, please bring it to class, although this isn’t required.

Three web sites will be used frequently in class. The RCA Muckrakers web site, at, is where writing exercises, and stories assigned between classes, will be posted. Reading assignments will always include reading and commenting on stories that are posted by fellow students.

A second web site frequently used will be The Glocalist at This web site publishes journalism that describes issues, events, and people in Minnesota by illuminating their international connections. Stories published on The Glocalist will be sent to several thousand readers via e-mail subscription list.

Stories written in the workshop will also be published on the Twin Cities Daily Planet at


Class One: Basic Reporting
> What is news? Who and what is journalism for?
> Exercise 1: Where to get story ideas
> Building a story idea list
> The three sources of information: observation, interviews, documents
> Making a reporting plan
> Exercise 1: Telling stories through the senses
> The Basic Journalism Story Structure
> Exercise 3: Writing anecdotes
> Internet Skill #1: Web sites, blogs, e-mail, newsgroups, listservs

Reading Assignment – 1) “Journalism of Verification,” Chapter 4 from The Elements of Journalism by Kovach and Rosenstiel; 2) “Journalism’s Theory of Democracy and Its Shortcomings,” pp 55-61 in Democracy and the News by Herbert J. Gans; and 3) The Associated Press Stylebook.

Writing Assignment -- Write a story with an anecdotal lead and nut graf.

Class Two: Basic Story Structure
> What are the foundations of journalistic credibility?
> Factuality, Fairness, Authority, and Verification
> The Building Blocks: Statistics, Quotes, and Anecdotes
> News stories, feature stories, pegs
> Summary leads vs. anecdotal leads
> Exercise 1: Writing in scenes
> Internet Skill #2: Creating and maintaining a blog

Reading Assignment – 1) Introduction and Chapter 1 from We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People, by Dan Gillmor; 2) “In the Kingdom of the Half-Blind,” by Bill Moyers; 3) Tips on interviewing from Doug McGill and Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute

Writing Assignment -- Write a feature story in scenes.

Class Three: Doing Interviews & Handling Quotes
> The Art of Interviewing
> Pseudo-events, Access, and the Role of PR in Journalism
> Getting interviews with public figures
> Handling difficult interviews
> How to take notes in an interview
> When to tape record an interview
> Asking for quotes vs. asking for information
> Where do you put quotes in an article?
> What do you put in quotes, what do you paraphrase?
> Exercise 1: Using the AP stylebook on quotations
> Exercise 2: Interviewing each other in class
> Internet Skill #3: Online community news journalism

Reading Assignment – 1) “A Rhetoric Primer,” “Toward a Field Theory of Journalism,” and “Media and Political Bias,” by Andrew Cline at; and 2) “Elementary Principles of Composition,” Chapter 2 of The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr., and E.B. White, and “An Approach to Style,” Chapter 5 of The Elements of Style.

Writing assignment -- Conduct an interview and write a news story or feature story from it. Use AP and class guidelines for handling quotes.

Class Four: Writing with Style
> Informing vs. Entertaining
> Good reporting is the basis of good writing
> Write as you speak, then rewrite
> Clarity is the ultimate writing virtue
> The only three writing rules you’ll ever need
> Exercise 1: Omit needless words (10 ways)
> Exercise 2: Use the active voice (three ways)
> Exercise 3: Avoid jargon, abstraction, and clichés
> How to write good headlines
> Exercise 4: Writing good headlines
> Internet Skill #4: Computer-Assisted Reporting Techniques

Reading Assignment – 1) “Reflections on Journalism and the Architecture of Democracy,” pp xv-xviii in Journalism: The Democratic Craft by G. Stuart Adam and Roy Peter Clark; 2) “The Faded Mystique of Objectivity” by Douglas McGill; and 3) Chapters on Media Law and Libel in the Associated Press Stylebook.

Writing Assignment -- Write neighborhood news or feature story that combines interview and database research, and follows writing style rules.

Class Five: How to Write about Issues and Trends
> Personalizing issue and trend stories
> Reporting issues and trends – observation, documents, interviews
> More story structures: Analysis pieces, profiles, backgrounders, curtain-raisers,

   sidebars, reporter’s notebook, narratives, etc.
> Avoid discovering bogus issues and trends
> Media Law #1: FOIA, Sunshine laws, gag rules
> Internet Skill #4: Using Internet multimedia to tell stories

Reading Assignment -- “A Cultural Approach to Communication,” Chapter 1 in Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society, by James W. Carey, and “The Paradox of the Disengaged Conscience, Chapter 3 in Custodians of Conscience: Investigative Journalism and Public Virtue by James S. Ettema and Theodore L. Glasser.

Writing Assignment -- Write about an issue or trend of importance to you

Class Six: How to Write an Opinion Piece
> Writing to persuade
> Basic techniques of persuasion
> The roots of persuasion in rhetoric and propaganda
> The importance of reporting and factuality in persuasive journalism
> Appeals to reason vs. appeals to emotion
> Researching persuasive pieces
> Stating a thesis
> Building an argument
> Citing authorities
> Exercise 1: Writing an editorial
> Internet Skill #2: Collaborative global reporting on the Internet

Doug McGill is a former staff reporter for The New York Times, and bureau chief for Bloomberg News in Tokyo, London, and Hong Kong. Beginning January 1, 2007, he will be Executive Director of the World Press Institute at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. Since 2000, McGill has been a freelance writer based in Rochester, Minnesota and an adjunct professor of journalism and mass media at the University of St. Thomas. His web site, The McGill Report, collects his "glocal" journalism which illuminates the international connections of southern Minnesota. He also writes and edits Local Man, a blog about global journalism ethics.