Welcome to the Corona Hotline for journalism instructors.
For the next several weeks, probably even into the end of the semester, I’ll be maintaining this page as a clearing house for assignments, tools, resources and other stuff I think might make your lives easier. The front page of the blog will notify you when I pump up new stuff, but please feel free to grab whatever you need from here.
Also, please feel free to contact me with anything you need in the realm of media writing, news writing, news reporting and more. I’ve taught editing, features, sports journalism and more, so I have a bunch of stuff in the attic, so to speak, that could be helpful.
Finally, if you want to share any thoughts or anything else for the readers here, just let me know and we’ll make that happen. We all will get through this together, I’m sure.
Folks mentioned that their students are on “coronavirus overload” when it comes to the news cycle and that they want to write on anything BUT the virus. I went back through my files and found two topics that have nothing to do with coronavirus: A proposed tax on tanning bed operation and the “sketchy” nature of roadside restrooms.
Each year for about a decade, my students would pitch topics to me that they thought might be fun to write on for a midterm or a final. Whatever topic won the popular vote that year put me in a position of creating a fictional scenario that allowed them to write on it.
I would make up a speech from a source that was delivered to them as media practitioners at a news conference. I would then issue two “response” press releases on that same topic, based on the information in that speech, from likely stakeholders on both sides of the issue.
It was then my students’ job to write a balanced inverted-pyramid story based on the topic. They had to come up with a thematic lead, use quality quotes from each source and demonstrate flow, pace and clarity. Each story was about two pages, double-spaced.
Feel free to grab these topics at those links. I did my best to “clean” them for you so they don’t reference our university, city or other folks. I left spots in red for you to fill in things to make it more specific to your school.
Also, here’s a new AP style exercise in case you were running short. Contact me for an answer sheet.
The Student Press Law Center built a coronavirus resource page that includes a variety of elements for student media folks and classroom educators. SPLC’s collection includes letters that explain the essential nature of student media, in case administrators want to shut things down during the break, and information on the legal rights and risks associated with covering the pandemic. It’s a phenomenal resource in an area in which those folks have a clear expertise.
Speaking of student media and help, Jocelyn Tatum of Tarrant County College was nice enough to share this class exercise she built to replace almost her entire reporting class for the second half of the term. Tatum, who advises the award-winning Collegian student media outlet, saw this as a great way to get students some reporting experience.
“My students in my media writing class were originally to publish five stories with the student newspaper to pass the class,” she wrote. “This seemed overwhelming to me and them now that everyone is learning remotely, so I came up with this class project instead. It is for journalism students in writing/reporting courses.”
Here are a couple more exercises: I pulled a “partial quotes” exercise from one of the workbooks and posted it here, given that a lot of articles on the coronavirus are using partials in ways that they shouldn’t. (Kind of like what I did above there…)
Also, if your students want to get published and want to do some simple reporting, here’s an exercise on how to localize national stories. I built this one for my students with the idea that either student media or some of their smaller hometown papers might want some nice localization pieces on students or younger people dealing with the impact of the virus. Feel free to rework this to fit your needs.
Joy Mayer, director at Trusting News, was nice enough to share her Teachapalooza presentation. She notes that if you’re looking for assignments that can be done remotely, here’s a resource: Here is a link to her excellent work.
Kyle Miller, an assistant professor at the University of South Dakota, just built this assignment for his sports-writing class. It’s a news feature/profile piece that students can do while maintaining social distance. He was also nice enough to share this update for his broadcast class, which might be helpful to other folks in this area of teaching during this situation.
If you’re in need of a walk-through of what makes a press release work and how it should look, here’s a podcast I did as well as a PDF’ed version of the press release I was using as an example. If your students are like my students, listening to me might be just the thing to help them fall asleep…
GET ACCESS TO MY TEXTBOOKS (AND OTHERS) FREE, THANKS TO SAGE: I just got a note from my publisher that SAGE is opening the vault on all of its texts and other resources for the rest of the semester. Free access and what’s available is all outlined here.
Hope it helps, especially for those students who had to leave all sorts of belongings behind.
Video Press Conferences for Writing Exercises
Thanks to professor Chandra Clark at the University of Alabama, instructors who want to have their students do news conference coverage stories based on non-transcript stuff have plenty of options from which to choose. Dr. Clark has this running list of press conferences on the Coronavirus, which are available via video online. It’s a great gift that keeps on giving, as she said she’d be continuing to update the list throughout her spring break and beyond.
One of the more difficult things for reporting students in this pandemic is to write speech or meeting or panel stories because all such things have been cancelled. Fortunately, a number of places have posted transcripts of recent events that can help out.
For several years, I’ve used “Face the Nation” interviews for my midterms when I needed students to go through an interview and pick out quotes that they could use as part of a paraphrase-quote pairing. Here’s the most recent transcript, which comes from the March 15 show. The transcript has multiple interviews, including one from Anthony Fauci, who is basically the most informative source right not on the COVID-19 situation. Other transcripts from previous editions are available on the program’s website.
Also, the White House has a series of briefings, speeches and other events transcribed on its website here. Recent events keep showing up there, so if you want your students writing like they were part of the press corps, you can grab these here for free.
Sporting Event Exercise:
How do you create an asynchronous event for your sports-writing class? Great question. Here’s what’s hopefully a great answer.
I had to build one of these kind of “gamer story” exercises a few years back for a class I taught online in a sports-writing class. I wasn’t allowed to send people places, so what I did was pull a box score from a sports event I knew well, change up the names of the people involved and build what was basically a series of post-game interview quotes for several players and coaches.
The name changes meant that the students couldn’t just go find the story and essentially copy the work of others. Plus, I changed enough of the game moments to create some clear angles for the students to focus on in their leads etc.
I just built this one yesterday and here are PDF and Word editions of it. You will likely want to go and change team names (I made them generic so you could, but so you could still follow what’s going on) and add key elements like where the game was played and what date the game was (Again, I kept that stuff generic so you could better make it work for you). If you noticed any glitches in there, please let me know.
News Writing Exercises:
In a strange bit of serendipity, my students had started working on their first interviews for their first big media writing assignment. They had to pick topics and then conduct an interview with someone on that topic. The class had several topics, including the coronavirus. Thus, they all just turned in their raw material/interview transcriptions for the project.
Linked here is an “ID-free” version of these questions and answers that you can use for any writing assignment you want. I stripped off all the identifying information and left red text in there for you to fill in names of fictitious employees, students or whatever you choose as sources for the interviews. This allows you to make this more geographically centric for your students and it avoids problems of me putting people’s comments out there who might not want them nationally published. (If I missed one or two IDs, kindly delete them and replace them for me…)
The best (and worst) things about this file is that it’s totally raw material. No fixes for AP, no grammar tweaks or anything. It is literally transcribed ramblings of students, workers and faculty that your students will need to dig through to create something of value for the readers.
If you want more information on what I do with these for my students or how we run our class assignment like this, email me or hit me up through the contact page.
You can grab any of my AP exercises. Here are the first handful I could find. You can either tweak them and build your own answer keys or contact me for a copy of my corrections. I’d post them here, but something tells me that might be counterproductive:
- 16 sentences with more than 50 errors
- 6 sentences with 30 errors
- 4 sentences with 20 errors
- 4 more sentences with 20 errors
Lead writing exercises:
Sing us a lead, you’re in isolation, now…: Here’s a post I did a few years back: Pick a song and write a lead
The Underwear Thief Cometh: Here’s the lead writing exercise I use in my Writing For The Media class, mainly because it was local and it touched on all sorts of problems: The original lead was too long, the lead missed the “when” element that made the story timely, the misplaced modifier told people some guy was threatening underwear etc. I’ve linked to a copy of the story from this post if you want to use it and give your students some brush-up opportunities on rewriting a lead, either for an intro writing class or as part of an editing assignment.
Crime writing exercises:
Through some “duh,” briefly: Here’s info from a press release that the Madison Fire Department put out a few years back. I left it in Word so you could rework the information to make it more germane to your students by weaving in local info, making up a name for the guy involved etc. It’s a classic case of, “Just because you got away with dumb things before, it doesn’t follow you always will.”
Two-source crime story: This is a crime story exercise I made for one of the books a few years back. It involved a press release and two interviews. All the information is obviously fictional, but it fits the mode of a breaking news report on an armed robbery.
Back in my days in Columbia, we had to write obituaries off of the funeral home “death notice” sheets and then augment them with quotes we got from friends and family of the deceased. Here’s a canned assignment for a fictional death (For those of you who grew up in the 1990s, I hope you enjoy the reference; I can almost guarantee you that your kids won’t get it.). It comes complete with date info you can change if you want to export this back to Word, quotes from family and friends and the kind of stuff that will make for an interesting read. Hope it helps.
Your school got a new leader: Here’s a press-release assignment that I built for my Writing For The Media class that I’ve adapted for it to fit any of your schools. The instructions are in the body of the piece, with places for you to make specific changes based on your school’s set up noted in red.
The NY Times still has its data journalism lessons up and available for an “easy bake oven” version of teaching this to your students.
The Student Press Law Center still has its 30-question quiz available for download and usage if you want to build some legal lecture around it. It’s a keeper.