LARGEMOUTH: A Citizen Journalism Syllabus
Presented by Douglas McGill
H: 507-535-0951 C: 507-398-2182
The Resource Center of the Americas
3019 Minnehaha Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55406
St. Paul, MN
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.
is taught in three-hour sessions taught on six successive Tuesday evenings
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.
READING AND WRITING ASSIGNMENTS
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 www.rcamuckrakers.blogspot.com, 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 www.glocalist.org.
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 www.tcdailyplanet.com.
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
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.
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 www.rhetorica.net; 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
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
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,
reporter’s notebook, narratives,
> Avoid discovering bogus issues and trends
> Media Law #1: FOIA, Sunshine laws, gag rules
> Internet Skill #4: Using Internet multimedia to tell stories
-- “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.
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
ABOUT DOUG MCGILL
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
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