MCOM 256-Writing for the Media

MCOM 256.102 (Writing for the Media)

Spring 2020

Tuesdays, 6:30-9:10 p.m., Van Bokkelen 207


Instructor: Greg Rienzi

Office: CLA Annex adjunct office


Phone: 410-852-0283

Office Hours: 5:30-6:20 p.m. on Wednesdays or by appointment

Course Website:


Course Description

Principles of good writing with emphasis on writing basics, research, and analysis to create effective communication in a variety of venues.

Course Content

The goal of this class is to introduce students to basic news writing and reporting skills. You will learn to research, report and write news briefs and longer stories for the mass media. The course will emphasize all aspects of good writing and reporting, including grammar, spelling, punctuation, organization, accuracy, completeness, conciseness, taste and readability. Your goal will be to write with clarity and accuracy under deadline pressure.

 Learning Outcomes

  • Develop a clean and concise writing style;
  • Research 101: Develop an understanding of source appropriateness and credibility. How to gather information and then use it appropriately;
  • Identify and use appropriate news style, grammar, spelling and punctuation;
  • Compare and contrast different media outlets’ content, structure and styles;
  • Select appropriate facts, quotations and paraphrases and integrate them into stories
  • Differentiate straight news structures from feature structures;
  • Plan and conduct interviews;
  • Better analytic skills
  • Compose basic news stories under time pressure for print and online outlets.

Course Prerequisites

Prerequisites: MCOM 101 and ENGL 102. Students may not attempt a class for the third time without prior permission from the Academic Standards Committee. Information regarding this policy can be obtained through the Enrollment Services.

Required Textbook

The Associated Press Stylebook, 2019 edition

Recommended Readings:

Writing and Reporting for the Media (12th edition) by John R. Bender et al.

Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark

Your Responsibilities:

You are expected to complete reading assignments before they are discussed. This syllabus specifies the readings that are to be completed by each class meeting. Being prepared will not only allow you to clarify any questions you might have, but it will also help you offer constructive ideas during class discussions. You are also expected to keep track of news. You should come to class prepared to discuss current events and issues, and how they are reported differently in various media. The New York Times, Baltimore Sun and Associated Press will serve as models of news writing style and structure.

Attendance is mandatory and I expect you to arrive on time for class. If you plan to be absent or late, I expect you to notify me in advance, like you would an employer. The quizzes will be given in the first ten minutes of a class, and if you are late you will not receive more time. It is your responsibility to make up any missed work due to an illness. If you miss a class, please contact me or a trusted fellow student to see what you missed.

Individual Meetings: Please keep a copy of all of your in class writing assignments.  At about midway through the semester I will meet briefly with each of you individually to go over your work.  This meeting will take place during class time.

Check the course website regularly: I will post all messages/assignments to my WordPress page and the ‘Schedule’ page will have the most up-to-date listing of assignments and due dates. There will be times when I assign an essay or story that must be read prior to our next meeting. You will be expected to discuss this article and how it relates to the current class topic.

Course Format

Primarily lectures early on in term. We will also read assigned chapters from the textbook or handouts, and comment or ask questions dealing with their content.

Take quizzes on grammar and AP style. (It is essential that you familiarize yourself with the language of journalism.)

Write and submit in-class news leads, briefs and stories on deadline. You may be required during class time to go and research a story; this means interviewing subjects, using the Internet and other means to gather information.

Homework writing assignments.

Major Out-of-class assignments:

Story 1- Your basic inverted pyramid news story—short and sweet. Topic, length and exact due dates will be announced later.

Story 2- An advance story on an upcoming newsworthy event in the community. An advance story is one that runs prior to the event and informs the reader of what is expected to happen and its significance. Newspapers, newsletters, online news pages and broadcast media run these sorts of stories all the time. Examples could be an upcoming conference, festival, election, exhibit opening, press conference, sporting event, etc. 250-450 words.

Story 3- Speech Story. 500-600 words. We will either attend a lecture, or watch a speech in class. More information to come later. The focus of the assignment will be to offer an accurate summary of the speech in story form. The story will include direct quotes from the person’s speech, and focus on the talk’s main points. More details TK.

Story 4-Broadcast News story. Or alternative to print news format.

Story 5- ENTERPRISE STORY: News Feature/Profile: This should be based on at least three interviews (in-person) and focus on the material developed from your questioning of the subjects. Ideally, you shill SHADOW your subject, spend some time with them to get good details and quotes to use in your story. Stories can focus on societal trends (e.g., body piercing, health habits), community issues (crime, construction) and events (a milestone anniversary of one or new event.) Follow-ups to hard news stories are also fine (we’ll discuss this in class). You may also decide to do a profile. For example, you could write a story on a local politician, Towson athlete, faculty member or anybody with a unique and interesting story to tell. Keep in mind that you could (and should, in some cases) interview the subject’s friends, co-workers, peers, critics, family, etc. You may not interview your own friends or relatives unless you receive my prior approval. The story should be between 650-1200 words. You must submit a memorandum to the instructor, outlining the story and expected angles before beginning the assignment.



Out-of-class assignments: 45 percent


Grammar Test: 10 percent 


In-class writing assignments, quizzes and homework: 25 percent


Midterm and Final: 25 percent (combined)


Attendance and Participation: 5 percent


Final grades in this class will follow the above scale for percentages.



A = 93%–100%; A- = 90% – 92.99%; B+ = 87%– 89.99%; B = 83%- 86.99%; B- = 80%–82.99%; C+ = 77%–79.99%; C= 70%–76.99%; D+ = 67%–69.99%; D = 60%- 66.99; F= <60%.


(A-, A): This is publishable work. The story meets and/or exceeds assignment objectives. The copy is clear, interesting and well written. The lead is effective and the body of the story is organized well. An assignment that receives grades in this range would have properly identified the news element and, when applicable, provided a variety of sources that represent both sides of an issue. In addition, the copy is clean, meaning there are no spelling, grammar or accuracy errors.

(B-, B, B+): Publishable with some editing and has met the general assignment objectives. There are some minor spelling and grammatical errors. While the lead is effective and the body well organized, the story could be more engaging and cohesive.

(C-, C, C+): The story requires extensive editing to be considered publishable. It does not completely meet assignment objectives. The lead may be buried or fails to emphasize the newsworthy issue(s); the human element was not identified. The body of the story is disorganized and contains many errors. Stories that fall in this grade range will need to be revised.

(D-, D, D+): The story does not meet assignment guidelines and needs a complete rewrite to be published. The story may be superficial, confusing and not represent the facts effectively. The story contains an unacceptable number of spelling, grammar, or accuracy errors.

(F): The story contains major factual errors and is so distorted that it cannot be revised for publication. It may also contain a misspelled name and libelous statement.

0 (FF): The assignment was never turned in.

FX: This is an administrative failure for non-attendance or failure to withdraw. If you stop attending class and do not withdraw from the course by Towson’s preset deadlines for the semester, this is the grade you will receive.

I: Incomplete.  Students may only receive an incomplete when “verifiable medical reasons” or “documented circumstances” beyond their control “prevent students from completing a course within the term” (Towson University Undergraduate Catalog, p. 23).

Late Submission Policy: See the course policy section.

Rewrites: You will be allowed rewrites on some writing assignments. Rewrites are due one week after the class period when the assignment was handed in. Please note that they will NOT be accepted after that. The original must be turned in again with the rewrite. The two grades will be averaged. *Note: A well-done rewrite will make substantive changes, not just cosmetic ones (just inputting the corrections I make on copy.) Revision is the key to good writing! You should be revising your work before you hand it in to be graded.)

Class Participation and/or Professionalism: Come to class on time. Show respect for your professor, the class and your fellow students. Ask questions! Don’t assume you know the answer, and there never is a dumb question. Plus, more interaction will make the time go by quicker. If you need to bring food or drinks in class, you are responsible for disposing of them properly before you leave and keeping your computer equipment clean. Do not eat during a lecture. You’ll have time during the break or before class starts. Do not disrupt class by leaving to get food, drink or other. Only the restroom or an illness is an acceptable reason to leave the class.

Policy on cell phone and laptop/computer use: I ask that you respect the course, the instructor and your classmates by turning off your cell phones in class. That phone call or text can wait—plus they can be an unnecessary distraction. During the lecture portion of the course, laptop and monitor screens should be turned off. However, we will certainly use computers in class to write and research articles.


Course Policy, Student Responsibility, and Support


Students are expected to be familiar with and adhere to university policies regarding class attendance and general conduct and behavior, including maintaining a safe and respectful learning environment in and outside classroom. Students are also expected to understand course-specific policies regarding workload, assessment, and keeping informed about the course schedule.

  1. Attendance

Attendance policy in this course adheres to Towson University’s attendance policy

Class meets once a week, 2 hours+ each. In-class participation and exercise are an integral part of this course.  Students are required to attend every session, and attendance will be taken. If you are ill, please contact the instructor before class. Work missed because of an unexcused absence will not be accepted and you will receive a zero for that assignment. Anyone with two or more unexcused absences will not receive an “A” in the class. Anyone with five or more unexcused absences will be in danger of failing the class. A grade of FX will be issued if a student misses seven or more classes. Students will be advised to withdraw from the course if their absences or tardiness become excessive.

Absences due the following reasons are considered excused absences when supported by acceptable documentation. Absences that do not fall into any of these categories are unexcused.

  • illness or injury that prevents students from attending class. A receipt or appointment slip at campus Health Center is NOT an acceptable documentation.
  • religious observance where the nature of the observance prevents the student from attending class
  • participation in university activities at the request of university authorities (e.g., Intercollegiate Athletics, Forensics Team, Dance Company, etc.)
  • compelling verifiable circumstances beyond the control of the student

Students requesting an excused absence must provide documentation to the instructor two weeks prior to the scheduled absence when known in advance, or as soon as possible when not known in advance, but no later than by the beginning of the following class.

When a student misses a class, it is the student’s responsibility to cover all the information from that class, including announcements, assignments, and lecture notes from his/her fellow students. Neither all assignments nor lecture materials are posted online.

Students who face extenuating personal, medical, or family challenges are advised to contact the instructor immediately. Students may be referred to Student Affairs office for appropriate guidance. The instructor will work with designated university staff to provide the student with reasonable and feasible accommodation, if necessary.

  1. Assignment due and exams

All assignments are due as indicated in the syllabus. A late submission within 24 hours will lower 10% of the grade for the assignment. No assignment will be accepted after 24 hours and will result in a grade of zero. Assignments are typically submitted to a SafeAssign submission link on Blackboard. When a hard copy is submitted in class, it is due at the beginning of the class.

No make-up exam is offered unless an arrangement was made with the instructor in advance.

  1. Academic Integrity

All student work including assignments, presentations, and tests must adhere to the university’s Student Academic Integrity Policy The policy addresses such academic integrity issues as plagiarism, fabrication, falsification, cheating, complicity in dishonesty, abuse of academic materials, and multiple submissions. See the last page of this syllabus for the department’s policy concerning plagiarism and cheating. Penalties to violation of academic integrity ranges from F for the assignment to F for the course, in addition to a report filed in the Office of Student Conduct and Civility Education.

  1. Students with Disabilities

This course is in compliance with Towson University policies for students with disabilities as described in Students with disabilities are encouraged to register with Accessibility & Disability Services (ADS), 7720 York Road, Suite 232, 410-704-2638 (Voice) or 410-704-4423 (TDD). Students who suspect that they have a disability but do not have documentation are encouraged to contact ADS for advice on how to obtain appropriate evaluation. A memo from ADS authorizing your accommodation is needed before any accommodation can be made.

  1. Student Athletes:

Within the first two weeks of class, you must have a letter from the coach explaining your place on the team and a schedule of any away games or competitions during the semester. You must take any tests and prepare any assignments that conflict with this schedule before the test or due date, not after.


  1. Liability Statement

In all assignments, students must comply with all laws and the legal rights of others (e.g. copyright, obscenity, privacy and defamation) and with all Towson University policies (e.g. academic dishonesty). Towson University is not liable or responsible for the content of any student assignments, regardless of where they are posted.

  1. COFAC Civility Code and classroom behavior

COFAC places a priority on learning. We value the inherent worth and dignity of every person, thereby fostering a community of mutual respect. Students have the right to a learning environment free of disruptive behaviors and offensive comments. Faculty have the right to define appropriate behavioral expectations in the classroom and expect students to abide by them. Faculty have the responsibility to manage and address classroom disruption. Staff have the right and responsibility to define appropriate behaviors necessary to conduct any university activity free of disruption or obstruction.

We believe that in order to achieve these ideals, all COFAC students, staff, and faculty are expected to exhibit and practice civil behaviors that exemplify: (1) respecting faculty, staff, fellow students, guests, and all university property, policies, rules and regulations; (2) taking responsibility for one’s choices, actions and comments; (3) delivering correspondence – whether verbal, nonverbal, written, or electronic – with respectful language using professional writing standards and etiquette; and (4) accepting consequences of one’s choices and actions. The use of offensive, threatening or abusive language, writing, or behavior will not be tolerated and can lead to academic dismissal. Further information about civility can be found in Appendix F of the university catalog.

Examples demonstrating civility in the classroom as a student include:

  • Being respectful of the professor and other students.
  • Not texting or using cellular phones and other electronic devices.
  • Not using your laptop for activities other than class work.
  • Not eating or drinking in class.
  • Not reading newspapers or listening to music during the class.
  • Not sleeping in class.

Examples demonstrating civility in the classroom as a faculty member include:

  • Being respectful of the students.
  • Attempting to understand individual student needs and learning styles.
  • Discussing civil behavioral expectations during the first class.
  • Taking time to talk with students whose behaviors negatively affect the classroom.
  • Encouraging students to follow your civil behavior.
  1. Title IX Statement


Towson University (TU) is committed to ensuring a safe, productive learning environment on our campus that does not tolerate sexual misconduct, including harassment, stalking, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, or intimate partner violence [Policy 06.01.60]. It is important for you to know that there are resources available if you or someone you know needs assistance. You may speak to a member of university administration, faculty, or staff, but keep in mind that they have an obligation to report the incident to the Title IX Coordinator. The goal is that you feel able to share information related to your life experiences in classroom discussions and in one‐on‐one meetings.  However, it is required for them to share information with the Title IX Coordinator regarding disclosures, but know that the information will be kept private to the greatest extent possible.  If you want to speak to someone who is permitted to keep your disclosure confidential, please seek assistance from the TU Counseling Center 410‐704‐2512 to schedule an appointment, and locally within the community at TurnAround, Inc., 443‐279‐0379 (24‐hour hotline) or 410‐377‐8111 to schedule an appointment.

  1. Weapons Policy

To promote a safe and secure campus, Towson University prohibits the possession or control of any weapon while on university property. See the university policy at


College of Fine Arts and Communication

Department of Mass Communication

Towson, MD 21252



TO: All Students in the Department of Mass Communication

FROM: Department Faculty




The Department of Mass Communication maintains the following policy regarding plagiarism:


  1. Any words or images quoted directly from a source must be footnoted and in quotation marks. Similarly, in oral presentations, attributions must be clear.
  2. Any ideas or examples derived from a source that are not in the public domain or of general knowledge must be clearly attributed.
  3. Any paraphrasing or rephrasing of the words and/or ideas of a source must be footnoted. In oral presentations, attributions must be clear.
  4. All papers and presentations must be the student’s own work. Papers or presentations authored by others even with their consent constitutes plagiarism unless such authorship is made to the instructor.


Any student found plagiarizing in any of the above ways will receive an automatic “F” for the assignment and may receive an “F” for the course.


In compliance with Towson University’s policy on students’ academic integrity, documented evidence of the plagiarism will be reported to the Office of Student Conduct and Civility Education, and a copy will be kept in the department.


Last, any student discovered soliciting others to write a paper, speech, test, or other assignment for that student will receive an automatic “F” for the course.


There are ambiguities in concepts of plagiarism. Each instructor will be available for consultation regarding any confusion a student may have.


Most students are careful to avoid blatant plagiarism, the unacknowledged copying of exact words of the source. However, students must also be aware that the concept of plagiarism extends not only to wording but to patterns or sequences of ideas. If you paraphrase a section from a book without acknowledgement, using the same sequence or structure as the original author, then you are plagiarizing.


The Department of Mass Communication has adopted the following policy regarding cheating:


Course Schedule

This schedule is tentative, and the instructor holds the right to change the schedule. The instructor will announce in class any upcoming schedule changes. It is a student’s responsibility to stay current with any schedule change that was announced in class.

Jan. 29: An introduction to syllabus and what this class is about. We’ll discuss format and WordPress site. News basics.

Feb. 5:  What is news? Basic components of stories, news values and judgment. DUE: 3rd-PERSON BIO

Feb. 12: AP Style. Leads and story structure. Qualities of newswriting. DUE: News story analysis 

Feb. 19: Story ideas. Gathering information through observation, interviews and reference sources. LEAD ASSIGNMENT DUE

Feb. 26: The other bits: nut graphs, quotations, attribution, headlines, sidebars, etc. Midterm prep. STORY 1 DUE

March 11: Writing stories. MIDTERM


March 25: News coverage STORY 2 DUE

April 1: Features, leads and structure

April 8: More on features. Online journalism


April 22: In-class Workshop Story 4 DUE

April 29: Looking at the communications industry. Trends.

May 6: Media Ethics. Story 5 DUE

May 13: Final Exam. Meet at 7:30 p.m. (according to TU schedule)



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