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Assignments

 

Formal assignments
Report an Event

Reading: Textbook Chapter 14

Your mission: Attend an event relevant to your beat and write an article of approximately 500 words that makes readers feel like they were there. Remember that this is straight reporting--not evaluative, just the facts--Who, What, Where, When, Why. 

But how to report "just the facts" without sounding like a police report or putting readers to sleep! Check out Entertainment Weekly "TV Recaps" and other descriptive reporting. Keep in mind that there are lots of different angles for your story, too. If you went to a concert and both critics and fans hated it, you can interview them and write a story about how the event wasn't well received by quoting said critics and fans rather than evaluating it yourself. 

Reading: The journalist as a committed observer (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Four questions to find a focus for your story (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Eight paths to defining a storytelling approach (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Specifications: 

Due October 4

Submit on Canvas

Include Letter of Transmittal* 

*Letter of transmittal: instructions

A letter of transmittal (LOT) is a document common in most professional contexts. It is basically a letter that introduces a document to the reader and is, in this way a type of courtesy, like introducing people. All LOTs begin and end with formal introduction and closing components:

 

1. Opening paragraph: "Dear X, I am pleased to present to you the latest revision of (name of document)." Then give a quick overview of the context and content: "I chose to write about X for the publication X because X."

2. Body paragraphs: This is your opportunity to tell me why you made the rhetorical choices that you did in light of audience, purpose, and occasion/exigence. Discuss your publication and its audience. Why this topic now? What point of view and tone have you chosen? What constraints or obstacles did you face while researching, drafting, and revising this piece? What more would you like to do with it before the end of the semester when it will go into your final portfolio? What do you feel that you did well? Do you have any questions for me to consider as I read it?

Topics to address in body paragraphs: 

content

context

organization/structure (intro, body, conclusion)

stylistic components (POV, diction, tone, sound qualities, etc.)

conflict/narrative

detail

angle

through line

rhetorical strategy

3. Closing: We are back to formalities and fulfilling our readers' expectations. "I have attached a copy of X and look forward to your response. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments at (contact info).

 

Use standard business letter conventions: block formatting, standard margins, 12-point type, 1.5 spacing. Here's a link to a sample .

 

I am the recipient, so my information should appear as follows:

Beth Eakman Re

St. Edward's University

CMB #998

3001 South Congress Avenue

Austin, TX 78704

To submit your LOT on Canvas: Save them as a single document with the LOT on top. Start the paper on a new page following the LOT. 

 

Artist Interview and Profile

(TextbookChapter 12)

Find a local artist (or support person, business, or group, etc.) working in your genre, interview her or him, and translate the Q & A format into an engaging narrative that is customized for a specific publication (start with Hilltop Views). In addition to a simple interview with your subject, a good profile requires further research, both of the traditional (library, internet) variety and the experiential, which in this case will mean going places and talking to other people about your subject to provide depth and perspective.

 

Make sure that the W questions (Who, What, Where, When, Why) are embedded within the larger narrative. As your textbook notes, profiles "are so pervasive and familiar that many novice writers underestimate the skill and effort it takes to pull off an engaging piece. The biggest mistake that inexperienced profile writers make is failing to invest enough time in the reporting. Because profiles are principally the life story of an individual, fledgling writers tend to think that crafting a profile is as simple as spending a couple of hours with the subject and transcribing the recorded interview. The articles that result from such brief encounters....read like dull Wikipedia entries."

 

When I read your profile, I will be looking for a piece that places the subject or the subject's work in context, a conflict that drives the narrative, detail, a clear angle, a "classic profile structure" (199), and a "through line" (202).

 

Specifications

Due Date: 10/18

Length: Determined by the standard for your publication (if it's not in the submission guidelines, take an average.)

Submission type: Canvas

Include Letter of Transmittal

The Scene

The scene looks at the context of your art beat at a particular time (see longer description on the calendar page.) What is happening right now in the world of Americana music in Austin? How does "the capsule wardrobe" concept reflect a shift in social attitudes toward consumption? What is up with all the movies about teenagers surviving in a post-Apocalyptic hellscape? The Jon Stewart effect: from one satirical news show to a whole category--how did this happen? Why? What are the defining moments?

Now, consider the Austin Scene: the people, places, products, events, and trends that capture a particular moment in time and place. While there are a few of you whose beats won't work with Austin, most will. If you CAN write your Scene story about Austin, you must. Clear it with me if you can't. 

Specifications

Due Date: 11/1

Length: ~1000 words

Submission type: Canvas

Include Letter of Transmittal

 

The Pitch (Querying)

Now that you've got some pieces written, how do you go about getting them published? Unless you've been hired as a staff writer for a news outlet or magazine, you write a query--we used to call them query letters, but they're almost always emails these days. The good news is that they follow a standard format. The bad news is that space is short and stakes are high: you've got to sell your piece by convincing the editor that it's not only riveting but also a great fit for their publication and the time period. So, it takes some work.

 

First, you'll need to find the contact information for your publication. Once you have that lined up, it's time to work on your pitch. It should follow, approximately, a four paragraph format.

 

1. The hook: the first paragraph grabs your reader's attention and gives a little sample of what your piece is about. Start with the conflict or contrast that gives your story narrative tension.

2. The why paragraph: this paragraph (or two if you need another) explains why this story is a good fit for their readers and why the topic will be hot just in time for publication; you'll need to know their editorial calendar, be familiar with their departments, and be just a tiny bit psychic if there's a six-month or more timeline.

3. The nuts and bolts: this paragraph tells them how you'll flesh out your story. If you'll interview subjects or experts, this is the time to explain that. Doing other kinds of research? Tell the editor. Ballpark word count goes here.

4. Why you? Your final paragraph explains why you are the perfect person to write this story. You know the topic and their publication well and this piece is important to readers. This is where you blow your own horn and give a short bio that is specific to your work as a writer (ideally a published one with clips to attach).

 

End with a polite exit: Please feel free to contact me with any questions. I look forward to hearing your comments. Sincerely or Thank you (nothing flashy), and your name. You can give them your phone number if you are comfortable doing so.

 

A note about your LOT: Your LOT of transmittal will be to me about your process and choices composing this query letter. I know that writing a letter about writing a letter can be a bit confusing, but remember that you have two separate assignments. The query is from you to a publication editor selling your piece and the LOT is from you to me, explaining how and why you've written what you've written in your query.

 
The Feature

While writing features requires just as much traditional reporting (research, immersive, interviews) as hard news, features are not primarily meant to deliver the news firsthand. They do contain elements of news, but their main function is to humanize, to add color, to educate, to entertain, to illuminate. They often recap major news that was reported in a previous news cycle. Features often:

  • Profile people who make the news

  • Explain events that move or shape the news

  • Analyze what is happening in the world, nation or community

  • Teach an audience how to do something

  • Suggest better ways to live

  • Examine trends

  • Entertain

You will notice that you have already done some of these kinds of writing for the class. Our feature assignment is your opportunity to revise, edit, develop, and submit a piece on a topic you've already started or to start completely over with a new topic. In either case, your understanding of your publication is critical.

Specifications

Due Date: 11/20

Length: see publication

Submission type: Hard copy, stapled upper left, LOT on top of essay, worksheet and peer review sheets behind

Formatting: Heading--MLA style; Body--block format, 1.5 spacing, standard margins, 12-point font

*Note* This assignment must be accompanied by a query letter pitching the story to your editor.

Point value: 10

 

Hard News and Soft News

A news story can be hard, chronicling as concisely as possible the who, what, where, when, why and how of an event. Or it can be soft, standing back to examine the people, places and things that shape the world, nation or community. Hard news events--such as the death of a famous public figure or the plans of city council to raise taxes--affect many people, and the primary job of journalists is to report them as they happen. Soft news, such as the widespread popularity of tattooing among athletes or the resurgence of interest in perennial gardening, is also reported by journalists. Feature stories are often written on these soft news events.

 

There is no firm line between a news story and a feature, particularly in contemporary media when many news stories are "featurized." For example, the results of an Olympic competition may be hard news: "Canadian diver Anne Montmigny claimed her second medal in synchronized diving today." A featurized story might begin: "As a girl jumping off a log into the stream running behind her house, Anne Montmigny never dreamed she would leap into the spotlight of Olympic diving competition." One approach emphasizes the facts of the event, while the feature retains the facts while emphasizing the human interest story. Most news broadcasts or publications combine the two to reach a wider audience.

 

Today’s media use many factors to determine what events they will report, including

  • timeliness

  • proximity

  • consequence

  • the perceived interest of the audience

  • competition

  • editorial goals

  • and the influence of advertisers

 

All these factors put pressure on the media to give their audiences both news and features. In a version of featurizing, pressure from advertisers or lobbyists often result in writing that appears at first blush to be news when it is, in fact, promotion for a product, idea, or policy.

 

When a hard news story breaks--for example, the sinking of a ferry in the Greek islands--it should be reported with a hard news lead. Soft leads and stories are more appropriate when a major news event is not being reported for the first time: a profile of the local couple who had their vacation cut short when the Greek ferry struck a reef and sunk while the crew was watching television. Some editors dispute the emphasis on soft writing and refer to it as info-tainment.

 

Types of Features

 

Personality profiles: A personality profile is written to bring an audience closer to a person in or out of the news. Interviews and observations, as well as creative writing, are used to paint a vivid picture of the person.

 

Human interest stories: A human interest story is written to show a subject’s oddity or its practical, emotional, or entertainment value.

 

Trend stories: A trend story examines people, things or organizations that are having an impact on society. Trend stories are popular because people are excited to read or hear about the latest fads.

 

In-depth stories: Through extensive research and interviews, in-depth stories provide a detailed account well beyond a basic news story or feature.

 

Backgrounders: A backgrounder--also called an analysis piece--adds meaning to current issues in the news by explaining them further. These articles bring an audience up-to-date, explaining how this country, this organization, this person happens to be where it is now.

 

Final Clip Portfolio (Issuu.com)

This is your opportunity to polish up all of the pieces (often called clips when editors ask you for writing samples) you've written this semester and collect them in an electronic magazine format that you can order and print on demand. Issuu.com is free, easy to use, and easy to embed in seufolios, websites, or blogs. It's a good format for sharing your writing samples for future jobs, promotions, or grad school. We will spend the final weeks of class working together on designing and uploading your magazine.

 

Contents

Your Clip Portfolio must include the following components. All new pieces, like chapters in a book, should start on the right facing page, so you'll need to add some blank pages or images occasionally to make this happen. Don't panic; we'll work on this in class.

1. Cover page

2. Author's statement on left-facing interior cover

3. Table of Contents

4. Cover page for Review

5. Review

6. Cover page for Profile

7. Profile

8....continue this pattern for the rest of your assignments; you get the idea.

9. Author's Bio with photo on back page.