MCOM 256-Writing for the Media

Writing for the Media


Fall 2018

MCOM 256.103 (MC110)

Mondays, 6:30–9:10 p.m.

Instructor: Greg Rienzi

Phone: 443-852-0283


Office: SA 150 (adjunct room)


OFFICE HOURS: Mondays 5:15-6:15 p or by appointment. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions about the class.


COURSE DESCRIPTION: Principles of good writing with emphasis on writing structure and style, research and analysis to create effective communication in a variety of venues. 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.

PREREQUISITES: MCOM 101 or 102 and ENGL 102 or 190. Not open to students who have successfully completed MCOM 255. (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.)

COURSE OBJECTIVES: To prepare students to:

  • Develop a clean and concise writing style;
  • Research 101: Develop an understanding of source appropriates 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 FORMAT: We will begin the semester with some lectures/discussions that focus on the basics of journalistic style, grammar and “newsworthiness.” You can expect to have a quiz about every week on AP style and/or grammar the first part of the term. You will also be reading assigned chapters from the textbook and are expected to come to class prepared to discuss them. We will also critique and analyze speeches, essays and news features to identify effective practices and style. As the course progresses, we will spend the majority of time on writing assignments, both in-class writing and editing of outside assignments. (Note: Deadline writing assignments and quizzes cannot be made up, so attendance is essential.) Other topics we will discuss in class include interviewing techniques, the importance of objectivity, knowing your audience guidelines and careers in communications. In addition, there will likely be guest speakers and videos that will be tied into assignments.



  • The Associated Press Stylebook, 2017 edition
  • Grammar text: The Little Seagull Handbook w/ exercises by Richard Bullock

Pen, pencil, notebook and thumb drive (to save stories on).


  • Writing for the Mass Media, 9th edition ebook by James G. Stovall
  • Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark, college edition

We might use several websites including: (for grammar) and (for math and analytical skills).

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 and Baltimore Sun will serve as models of news writing style and structure.   Assignments must be turned in on time. Unless told otherwise, assignments must be submitted through Blackboard. Please be careful to submit each assignment in the proper place. Late assignments will be penalized as follows:  One day late: 15 points off.  Two days late: 25 points off.  If assignments are more than two days late you can receive no more than half credit.

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.


  • Read assigned chapters from the textbook 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 will be your basic, building-block 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 650-1000 words. You must submit a memorandum to the instructor, outlining the story and expected angles before beginning the assignment.

IMPORTANT NOTE ON LATE GRADES: Deadlines for each of these assignments is 6:30 p.m. the day the story is due. Meaning, even if you will not attend class for an excused reason, you are responsible for getting the assignment in by the above time. I prefer hard copy, but if you have to send a story electronically YOU are responsible for any malfunctions in the sending/receiving process. A later paper will receive an automatic 10 percent reduction in grade and an additional 15 percent reduction for each day thereafter. I will NOT accept papers beyond one week of their due date. Failure to adhere to these guidelines or missing an assignment will result in a “ZERO” numerical grade for that paper. Even if you miss a class, there are no excuses not to hand in an assignment. It is your responsibility to contact a fellow classmate or me to find out what you missed. Always assume something is due and verify with someone you trust. You may not be allowed to make-up missed assignments unless you have a university-sanctioned absence.


Out-of-class assignments: 40 percent

Grammar Test: 10 percent

In-class writing assignments, quizzes and homework: 20 percent

Midterm and Final: 25 percent (combined)

Attendance and Participation: 5 percent

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


90 -100 (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.

80 – 89 (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.

70- 79 (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.

60 – 69 (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.

Below 60 (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).

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 Disability Support Services (DSS), 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 DSS for advice on how to obtain appropriate evaluation. A memo from DSS authorizing your accommodation is needed before any accommodation can be made.

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.

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.)


I do not tolerate plagiarism or fabrication of any kind. Journalists and writers of all types value their integrity and strive to present the truth to their audiences to the best of their ability. You will be asked to live up to these standards as well. You should adhere to Towson’s policy on cheating and plagiarism. If you are caught breaking this policy, you will be prosecuted to the full extent that the policy allows.

What is Plagiarism in Print Journalism?

* Not citing the source of information used in a story.

* Using other people’s reporting notes. (You may, however, double check the accuracy of your facts and quotes with other reporters who attended the same interview or event.)

* Using sentences or paragraphs from other people’s stories or writings without giving credit or proper attribution. This means if you are using a press release as source material, you must cite the source and paraphrase it to put the release’s information into your own words.

* Turning in someone else’s story and pretending it is yours.

What is Fabrication in Print Journalism?

* Making up direct or indirect quotes in stories. Quoted material should be what a real person actually said.

* Making up people, events, or facts in a story.

* Making up an entire story from an event that never happened.

* Making up a story from an event you attended in the past. You must represent the information in a story accurately. For example, you must actually attend the meeting you are assigned to cover this semester.

* Making up a story from other people’s notes or other people’s accounts of an event.

The Penalty:

* The penalty for plagiarism and/or fabrication of any assignment in this class is an automatic F in the course. The case will be referred to the Office of Judicial Affairs hearing process as well. The penalty for these offenses is stiff in journalism because if you commit these in most media workplaces, you would be fired.


  • Come to class on time. Show respect for your professor, the class and your fellow students.
  • Turn off and keep off all electrical devices (iPods, smart phones, etc.) in class.
  • 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.
  • Unless told otherwise, you are not allowed to surf the Net or type during class. The best policy is to keep your monitor turned off so as not to rouse temptation.


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. Since this class meets weekly, three or more absences will seriously impact your grade and endanger you from passing the course. You are allowed only one unexcused absence. After that, you must bring in documentation, i.e. a doctor’s note or a signed health center note. In the case of a car or traffic-related absence, you must bring in car repair bill, police citation, or towing bill. In the case of a death-related absence, please call before you attend the funeral and give me the name of the deceased or obituary from the newspaper. What I mean by all this is: The key to an excused absence is proper documentation. Two or more unexcused absences will negatively impact your grade, meaning points will be deducted.

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.

If you are unable to take an exam on the scheduled date, it is your responsibility to let me know at least two weeks in advance of the scheduled exam so we can make other arrangements. In the event you miss an exam, it is imperative that you provide written documentation pertaining to the reason for your absence within one business day of the scheduled exam date (documentation can be left in my mailbox in the MCOM office or faxed to me at 443-287-9955, with attention to my name.) Providing documentation does NOT guarantee that you can receive a make-up exam, but no make-up will be allowed without it.

Please check the Towson University Undergraduate Catalog for attendance policy.

ACCURACY: In a media career, your reputation—and the reputation of the organization for which you work­—is maintained by the quality of your work. Therefore, work that contains many grammatical, spelling, punctuation or style errors will negatively affect these reputations (and in the case of this class, your grade). Factual errors, including misspelling a proper noun, including incorrect information or misstating a fact–EVEN only a typographical error—will take off points and proper names a full letter grade—multiple mistakes earn a failing grade for that story or assignment. The moral of this tale? Fact check and read with the eye of an editor before you turn something in. In the real world, your career literally depends on it.

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.

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 and Communication Studies

Towson, MD 21252



M E M O R A N D U M                                                  


TO:                             All Students in the Department Of Mass Communication and Communication Studies

FROM:     Department Faculty



The Department of Mass Communication and Communication Studies adheres to the following policy regarding plagiarism:

  1. Any words or images taken directly from another source (including the Internet) must be footnoted or cited and in quotation marks. Similarly, in oral presentations, attributions must be clear.
  2. Any ideas derived from a source not in the public domain or of general knowledge must be clearly attributed.
  3. Any paraphrased material must be footnoted or cited.  In oral presentations, attributions must be clear.
  1. All papers and presentations must be the student’s own work.  Submission of papers or presentations authored by others, even with their consent, constitutes plagiarism.

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.  Documented evidence of the plagiarism will be kept in the department office, and will be reported to the Office of Judicial Affairs.

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.  Faculty 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 without acknowledgement, using the same sequence or structure as the original author, then you are plagiarizing.

Students have the right to appeal a charge of plagiarism.  An appeal starts with the chairperson of the department.


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


SCHEDULE: Writing for the Media (subject to change!)

Aug. 27: An introduction to syllabus and what this class is about. We’ll discuss format and WordPress sites. News basics.

Sept. 3: NO CLASS. Labor Day HOLIDAY.

Sept. 10: What is news? Basic components of stories, news values and judgment. DUE: 3rd-PERSON BIO

Sept. 17: AP Style. Element of good writing through examination of essays and news stories.

Sept. 24: Leads and story structure.

Oct. 1: Story ideas. Gathering information through observation, interviews and reference sources

Oct. 8: The other bits: nut graphs, quotations, attribution, headlines, sidebars, etc. Midterm prep.

Oct. 15: Writing stories. MIDTERM

Oct. 22: News coverage STORY 2 DUE

Oct. 29: Features, leads and structure


Nov. 12:More on features. Online journalism

Nov. 19: In-class Workshop

Nov. 26:Looking at the communications industry. Trends.

Dec. 3: Ethics

Dec. 10: Last class. TBA Story 5 DUE

Dec. 17: Final Exam


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