Newswriting & Reporting

Essentials | Key Dates | How to Contact Professor Klein  | Prerequisites | Purpose | Success

Text | Supplies | References | Assignments | Grades | Grading

Academic Ethics | Classroom Behavior | Schedule

This class meets in Room 336 Innovation Hall


This class meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays over a total of 15 weeks and 28 sessions beginning Tuesday January 20 and concluding Thursday April 29 (with the exception of March 9 and 11 during Spring Break) from 9 to 10:15 a.m. in 336 Innovation Hall. There is no final exam.

OUR CONTRACT: This syllabus represents an agreement (or contract) between the student and the instructor. By remaining enrolled in this course, each student is accepting the policies and guidelines covered in this syllabus.


IMPORTANT NOTE: Students who do not confirm their registration by attendance at the first class meeting are subject to being dropped at the discretion of the department and instructor. Students must not assume that the department will automatically initiate a drop for not attending class. Students who register for courses they do not attend are themselves responsible for dropping the class. If you miss the first class, you must contact me with your intention to remain registered or you will be dropped for a waitlisted student.


    GMU office: Thompson Hall, room 219-B
    Office phone: 703-993-2199
    GMU e-mail:
    Web page:
    Office hours: Tuesday and Thursday, noon-1 p.m.; Wednesday, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.; or by appointment
    To leave work: Use my mailbox in the COMM office, 212 Thompson Hall



This 3-credit writing course is unlike anything you've done in high school or college composition courses. For example, we use Associated Press (AP) style, not APA or MLA style. This course is a step up from Comm303. You may experience some confusion and frustration at first, but it will get better if your apply yourself, consistently consult your AP Stylebook, and read the newspaper regularly.

Newswriting is one of the most utilitarian styles of writing you can learn once you get the knack of it. Even if you have no interest in becoming a journalist, this style of writing is a basic skill for all communication professionals. Even if you eventually decide to get out of the communication field entirely, this course still provides you with important critical skills. Not only does news style help you organize your writing, it helps you organize your thinking and decide what is really important about your subject.

COMM 351 is designed to introduce you to the reporting and newswriting skills that are fundamental to the working professional journalist and to most mass communication activities. The objective of this class is to help you develop a clear, concise writing style and a passion for thorough, accurate and fair reporting while gaining an understanding of journalistic sensibilities and ethics. Many of these skills will be learned and practiced on computers. Guest speakers will be invited to share their experiences and knowledge.

You will work on your writing, perfecting your grammar, spelling and punctuation basics as you move on to increasingly creative work. You will learn and practice the basics of reporting , including research, news gathering and interviewing techniques. We will also critically examine the journalistic concepts of fairness, objectivity, subjectivity, balance, news judgment, timeliness, deadlines, storytelling, sources, ethics and legal issues. You will do real reporting and learn about journalism as a career.


Attending the class on a regular basis is a good way to start.
In-class work that is missed cannot be made up unless excused in advance.
You must read and observe how news is reported, written and presented on a daily basis throughout the semester. You can do this by reading a daily newspaper (like the New York Times, Washington Post or USA TODAY, all easily available locally and online), watching television news and monitoring websites (like your own local newspaper website) on the Internet.
Students are encouraged to share examples of good writing in class.
The best way to learn how to report and write is to observe how others do it well.

All coursework must be doublespaced and typed on a computer and properly headed/identified in a consistent manner.
All e-mail correspondence must use the SUBJECT line and include the course number (Comm203-001).

NOTE: Getting a college education is a time-consuming pursuit. Many students are not experienced in time management and do not realize the time that a full load of courses really requires. Plan on spending 2-3 hours of outside preparation for each in-class hour! That means a full 15-credit load is a full time job! To benefit from this class, you must attend class regularly and you must do the work.

REQUIRED TEXT (please bring to every class):

SUPPLIES (please bring the following to EVERY class session): SUGGESTED REFERENCES (some useful websites):


from the textbook will be assigned (see below). Each student will be responsible for outlining a chapter from the text, leading the class in discussion of that chapter, and providing the outline on disk to be posted on this GMU COMM 351 website (this is a graded assignment).


The final grade for this course will be based on the quality of your work, which includes:


Your grades are based upon quality of research/interviewing, reporting and writing; absolute accuracy and fairness; strength of the lead; organization; clarity of thought and presentation; grammar, punctuation, spelling and AP style; and meeting deadline.

GMU utilizes a 10-point +/- grading scale.The Department of Communication has adopted the following scale for core and basic courses, which will be used to assign final grades in COMM 351:


1. You will write three news stories over the course of the semester: coverage of a news event, a speech or meeting, and an feature. If you hand in your story early (one full class ahead of the deadline), you will be permitted a rewrite. Each story counts 10% of your final grade for a total of 30%.
2. All other in-class and homework writing assignments combined count 30% of your final grade. Your lowest grade will be dropped.
3. Quizzes (style and spot news) count 20% of your final grade (lowest quiz grade will be dropped).
4. Classroom participation (10%), your chapter outlines (5%) and your ONE THING classnotes (5%) counts 20% of your final grade.


Honesty is a given for those who engage in journalism. When you violate the trust of your audience, you lose your important commodity: your credibility.
George Mason University's "Honor System and Code" is outlined on pages 29-31 of the 2003-04 University Catalog as part of the "Academic Policies" section (pages 27-45).
With regard to this course, acts of dishonesty include, but are not necessarily limited to, cheating on examinations, plagiarizing material from other sources, making up material or sources of information, and/or submitting work for this course originally completed for other courses without instructors permission. The penalty for academic dishonesty is failure of the course -- and you will be reported to the Honor Committee.
Plagiarism means using the exact words, opinions or factual information from another person without giving that person credit. Plagiarism is the equivalent of intellectual robbery and cannot be tolerated in an academic or journalistic setting.


In all discussions and assignments, this course emphasizes the importance of avoiding identifications and descriptions that serve to perpetuate stereotypes about gender, age, dialect, disability, national origin, race, religious affiliation and sexual preference. It is expected that discussions will be open and honest, but abusive language or behavior will not be tolerated.
Because of the sensitive nature of the computers, no food or drink will be allowed in the classroom, nor will smoking be tolerated.

Common courtesy should always prevail.

Your regular attendance in this class will have a gret impact on your final grade. The in-class participation is critical (in other words, you want me to know your name as early in the semester as possible!).
The only acceptable excuse for missing class is illness, serious family emergency, or a major religious holiday (see below).
For an excused absence, you must bring a note from a doctor (or medical professional) or parent (in the case of a family emergency).
Any application for an excused absence must be submitted in writing with a copy for my records.
Although you will not be graded directly for attendance (which I will keep), missing class without an approved written excuse will mean a failing grade for any in-class work and participation for that class.
If the number of missed classes add up, you will discover that you are failing that portion of the class. Equally important, it will strongly affect your final grade in other ways: missing important information that impacts your ability to successfully complete assignments.
Classes will start on time; it is rude to your fellow students to be late and cost them classtime.
Be aware of traffic and parking patterns in and around campus, especially the first two weeks of the semester.

Note to student athletes participating in intercollegiate events: You MUST inform me in writing prior to missing a class. So check your schedules now; if you must miss more than two classes because of scheduled events, you should reconsider taking this class.

It is the policy of George Mason University and this instructor to make every reasonable effort to allow members of our diverse university community to observe their religious holidays without academic penalty. However, it your responsibility to provide me with advance written notice of the dates of any major religious holidays on which you will be absent (the earlier notice the better please).

I have regular/posted office hours (immediately after class at 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday) and encourage you to use them -- as well as making mutually convenient special appointments as necessary. Students who proactively visit with their professors before a situation becomes a problem tend to avoid problems and do better in class.

Conversations about grades or individual problems are best dealt with in my officeduring office hours.

This university and this instructor are committed to providing an equitable learning environment for every student. I will readily adjust those students with special needs. If you have special needs in the classroom, please provide a letter from Disability Support Services confirming and describing your special needs at the start of the semester. You may have Disability Support Services contact me directly. This information will be kept in confidence.

Finally, you will find that I'm extremely responsive to e-mail. However, because I teach four classes, it is important that you include Comm351-002 and an applicable title in the SUBJECT line or your note may go unanwered.


NOTE: This schedule is subject to minor changes based on class progress throughout the semester and the availability of speakers. Changes will be communicated by e-mail, through Townhall and in class.

THE BASICS: Jan. 20 through March 4 (14 classes)
Reading: Appendices 1 & 2; Chapters 23, 1 through 14

WEEK #1 (Jan. 20 & 22)
Introductions; computer familiarization; course/syllabus discussion
In-class writing assignment: Autobiographical sketch (note grammar, spelling, punctuation)
Reading assignment for the first week:
Chapter 23, "Ethics" (____________________)
Appendix 1, Copy Editing and Proofreading Symbols
Appendix 2, Wire Service Style Summary (Capitalization, Abbreviations and Acronyms, Punctuation and Hyphenation, Numerals, Grammar/Spelling/Word Usage)

WEEK #2 (Jan. 27 & 29)
Ethics and AP Style: Why they're important!
Reading assignments:
Chapters 1, 2, 7 & 8, "The Nature of News"
(____________________); "The Changing News Business" (____________________); "The Inverted Pyramid" (____________________); and "Writing to be Read" (____________________)
AP Stylebook familiarity
Quiz: AP style quiz on capitalization, abbreviations and acronyms

WEEK #3 (Feb. 3 & 5)
More AP Style; news organizations and how they work; fundamentals of newswriting; the nature of news; fundamentals of traditional newswriting, including inverted pyramid style, leads (opening paragraphs) and attribution
Reading assignments:
Review Chapters 7 & 8; Chapter 3, "Interviewing"
AP Stylebook familiarity
Writing assignment and quiz: Writing leads (graded); AP style quiz on punctuation, hyphenation, numerals, grammar, spelling, word usage

  WEEK #4 (Feb. 10 & 12)

Guest speakers Michael Isikoff (left) of Newsweek, his book on the Clinton impeachment,
and Gordon Trowbridge (right) of the Air Force Times

Guest speaker: Air Force Times reporter Gordon Trowbridge, who was an embedded reporter during the Iraqi War on Thursday Feb. 12
More on fundamentals of traditional newswriting, including inverted pyramid style, leads (opening paragraphs) and attribution; interviewing techniques, including listening, quotes and attribution
Reading assignments:
Chapters 4, 5 & 9, "In Their Own Words"
(____________________); "Gathering Information" (____________________); "Beyond the Inverted Pyramid" (____________________)
Writing assignment and quiz: Interviewing exercise; AP style quiz

WEEK #5 (Feb. 17 & 19)
Guest speaker: Newsweek investigative reporter Michael Isikoff on Tuesday Feb. 17 in the Johnson Center Cinema (10:30 a.m.)
More on interviewing techniques, including listening, quotes and attribution; using quotes and attribution (possible guest speaker)
Reading assignments:
Chapters 11 & 12, "News Releases"
(____________________) and "Speeches, News Conferences and Meetings" (____________________)
Writing assignment: Exercises in attribution, quotes

WEEK #6 (Feb. 24 & 26)
Special kinds of stories: News releases, speeches, news conferences, meetings, accidents, fires, disasters, crimes and the courts, obituaries, computer-assisted reporting
Reading assignments:
Chapters 13 & 14, "Other Types of Basic Stories"
(____________________) and "Covering a Beat" (____________________)
Writing assignment/news quiz: Exercises on leads, quotes

Movie (extra credit assignment): "Shattered Glass," 6 & 9 p.m., Johnson Center Cinema (free for students)

WEEK #7 (March 2 & 4)
Catchup and review week
Reading assignments:
Chapters 6 & 10, "Reporting with Numbers"
(____________________) and "Obituaries" (____________________)


WRITING (and MORE WRITING): March 16 through April 29, 14 classes
Reading: Chapters 15 through 22
Students are encouraged to write stories for class credit AND ror (campus) publications. During this part of the course, students will focus on their preferred areas of interest (news, features, entertainment, sports) and their final story/project.

WEEK #9 (March 16 & 18)

Covering a beat and other specialized techniques
Reading assignments:
Review chapters 13 & 14, "Other Types of Basic Stories" (____________________) and "Covering a Beat" (____________________)

WEEK #10 (March 23 & 25)
Reading assignments: Chapters 15 & 16, "Business and Consumer News"
(____________________) and "Sports" (____________________)

WEEK #11 (March 30 & April 1)
Reading assignment: Chapter 20, "Writing for Online Media" (____________________)

WEEK #12 (April 6 & 8)
Reading assignment: Chapter 21, "Writing for Public Relations" (____________________)

WEEK #13 (April 13 & 15)
Reading assignment: Chapter 19, "Writing News for Radio and Television"

WEEK #14 (April 20 & 22)
Reading assignment: Chapter 18, "Investigative Reporting" (____________________)

WEEK #15 (April 27 & 29)
Reading assignment: Chapter 17, "Social Science Reporting" (____________________)
Guest speakers: Media recruiters to be announced
Teaching evaluations April 27