Teaching Journalistic Reporting, Writing & Editing

Journalism teachers at workshop

Students from the 2012 class of Teaching Journalistic Reporting, Writing and Editing gathered in front of Adler Hall, July, 2012.

Iowa Summer Journalism Teacher Workshop, July 23-27, 2014

I am happy to return to the University of Iowa campus to teach this workshop again. I taught this class when it was last offered in 2012, and have previously taught other workshops for teachers and a variety of sections of the student workshops.

Teaching this workshop takes me full circle because I began my journalism teaching career by taking this workshop from legendary Davenport Central adviser Rod Vahl back in 1985. As much as journalism has changed on the decades since then, many of the things Rod taught us are just as important today; these include:

  • Producing writing that is clear, concise, and stylistically correct.
  • Firsthand information gathering, including careful observation and interviewing the right sources to provide readers with good information.
  • Adopting the rhetorical forms and story structures readers and publications demand.
  • Learning what makes a story newsworthy and providing readers with the information they need.

This will be at the heart of what we do this week, and in addition to learning how to produce this writing ourselves, we’ll learn some strategies for organizing journalism classes and teaching these skills to students.

I am not sure what background in journalism you bring with you into this course. We will discuss that soon enough. Maybe some of you are as nervous as I was taking the course. Then I had my BS In English Teaching from UNI and an MA in English Education from Iowa, but I had no experience writing for a newspaper beyond some free-lanced articles. I had never  done interviews, and I had no idea what a lead was or how to structure an inverted pyramid story. Rod Vahl got me through that week, and I promise to get all of you through this one. Let the adventure begin!

Groundhog Day: offer readers something better than they expect

February 27, 2014 Leave a comment
Bill Murray plays a TV weatherman in Harold Ramis's 1993 film, Groundhog Day.

Bill Murray plays a TV weatherman in Harold Ramis’s 1993 film, Groundhog Day.

With the death of Harold Ramis, the comic genius behind so many of my favorite films, I’ve been reminded of Groundhog Day, one of his best films. In that film the main character, a TV weather man, is caught in a time loop that finds him waking up each day to find it’s Groundhog Day all over again.

Too many of our school newspapers and yearbooks read this way with obligatory stories done in much the same way every year. As a contest judge, I often feel like Bill Murray’s character in the Ramis film, asking myself whether I just read this story a few minutes ago.

I wonder if a similar feeling motivated Washington Post writer Keith Richburg in October of 2000. His story, “Barak may halt peace process” reads much like so many of the stories of the ongoing conflict between Israel and  Palestinian protesters in the troubled middle east. Instead of stopping there he took a new approach with another story on the same topic, “Death in the afternoon.” In this story, instead of official statements and quotes from all the right sources, he uses the power of personal observation, dialogue and story telling to take readers to the scene of a violent protest. His use of time as a rhetorical device is very effective. The first story is forgettable, the second is riveting. I have linked to both stories below.

Teachers and student editors might use these two stories as part of a discussion about how powerful first-hand observation can be in reporting. I’d recommend asking reporters to read both stories and start with a open-ended discussion about the impact of both stories. I did that often and may students often said they couldn’t force themselves to finish the first story and couldn’t tear themselves away from the second.

To apply this lesson, it’s as easy as looking at the last issue’s stories, or the list of story ideas for the next issue, and ask, “Which of these offers us the opportunity to do first hand reporting?”  I think your students will agree that they’d much more enjoy writing those stories, and I know your readers will enjoy reading them. Why not offer readers something more?

Barak May Halt Peace Process Death in the Afternoon

Journalism contests & evaluation services

February 13, 2014 Leave a comment

The Iowa High School Press Association asked me to share my thoughts on why contests and evaluation services are among the best ways to grow a journalism program, and provides some tips on making the process easier. They have posted the article on their website here.

YAOY bright spot in bleak news from North Carolina

January 7, 2014 Leave a comment

Yesterday, it was announced that one of my teaching friends in North Carolina, Brenda W. Gorsuch, won the JEA’s Yearbook Teacher of the Year award. I hope that brings some joy to Brenda and her colleagues in a year of bleak news for North Carolina teachers. Why should we be concerned about what’s happening in a state so far away? Because it is part of a national attack on public education, and we are not immune. http://dianeravitch.net/2014/01/06/what-educators-in-north-carolina-say-about-recent-legislative-changes/

Categories: Uncategorized

Information Graphics – On-the-spot JEA Write-off moderation

November 15, 2013 Leave a comment

This afternoon at 4 p.m. at the Fall Convention in Boston I will be moderating the On-the-spot JEA Write-Off contest in Information Graphics. This short presentation will be part of that moderation. Thank you to all the participants, and best wishes for the judging.

Information Graphics moderation

Anatomy of an Infograph

Creating Infographics with Adobe Illustrator

Information Graphics moderation

Writing for Non Readers (p163 NDH)

Take 5: Essential skills for every photojournalist

JEA Seattle__GDL_66adjThis short presentation introduces the five skills every photojournalist needs to contribute to a publication.

The five essential skills:

  • Handle a camera with mastery
  • Using a documentary approach, tell stories through interesting photos
  • Crop photos to improve the composition
  • Save and file photos correctly
  • Color balance and tone images

Download the presentation here:Take 5 Basic photo skills v.2

Categories: Photojournalism

Camera recommendations, five levels of spending

May 14, 2013 1 comment

The Canon SX260HS is a capable point and shoot camera for high school photojournalists, and it’s your best choice for less than $300.

This question comes up frequently: “I have some money to spend on photo equipment for my publication; what should I buy?”

Any answer depends on how much money you have to spend. I recently worked with a local camera dealer with this in mind and we came up with five packages of the best equipment for high school photojournalism ranging from a low end of about $300 to a top of just under $3,000. (Some of these prices include rebates that may not be current when you buy.)

The most affordable package is built around the Canon Powershot SX260 HS, a point and shoot camera that excels at the low light conditions your students will encounter covering school events. It is easy to learn and will do a decent job on sports.

Nikon SLRs are the choice if you have more money to spend. We chose Nikon equipment because of their performance and durability. We selected the Tamron f2.8 80-200 zoom lens on these packages because they offer great performance and a good price.

Each of the packages include cases, memory cards and insurance, something that I think is important when working with high school students.

My partner on this project was Dave Johnson of PhotoPro in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Even though you can save a few bucks by buying photo equipment at online superstores, a good full-service photo dealer can be competitive, and they offer advice and service you can’t get online. It’s impossible for most of us to keep current on what equipment is available now and in the near future. Dave’s advice on these packages was extremely valuable. So if you have a full-service dealer in your area, buy there; otherwise you can buy from PhotoPro online.

Package 1, $300- Canon SX260 camera: PP -278740

Package 2, $600 – Nikon 3100 Kit. PP- 278743

Package 3, $1375 – Nikon D5200 with two lenses PP- 278750

Package 4, $2,400 – Nikon D7000 with two lenses  PP- 278753

Package 5, $2,700 – Nikon D7000 with f2.8 17-50mm and f2.8 70-200mm lenses PP- 278778


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