Class Information: Syllabus

Journalism 200-- Journalism Research -- Winter 2002
Time: 10 a.m.-11:50 a.m. Mondays and Wednesdays
Location: Brown Hall 1033
Professor Christian Office Hours: Mondays and Wednesdays, noon to 2 p.m. in Sprau Tower #221
Voice mail: (616) 387-3110
Fax: (616) 387-3990
Office Hours: Mondays & Wednesdays noon to 2 p.m. or by appointment
Class Web Site:

This course is designed to provide the student with an introduction to the sources, practices, technique and principles of journalism and other information research. The course introduces students to the techniques of computer-assisted reporting. The course will show students how to use primary, secondary and human sources and analyze the data that will become the basis for asking questions in stories. The data analysis is only the beginning; students then need to determine the meaning of information and show readers how it affects them. Students will have an opportunity to conduct searches using published materials, government documents, archives, electronic databases, public records, personal interviews and the Internet. Students will learn how to critically analyze information gathered in their searches, to put it in context, to measure biases and to gauge accuracy. The course will emphasize sifting through information, selecting the most valuable material, providing context and understanding of that information, and presenting it in a clear and accurate way for purposes of a news story.

By the end of the course, students should be able to demonstrate key skills of information gathering, data acquisition, interviewing, data analysis, story framing and writing. The course aims to clarify journalistic values, improve the quality of hunches, encourage critical and logical thinking, and increase student wariness in areas of ethics, privacy, dirty data and FOIA laws.

Written assignments and exams:

All assignments must be typed. No papers that are not typed in 12-point Times typeface, double-spaced, with one-inch top, bottom, and side margins, will be accepted.

Writing takes more than one try, and the best work often requires revisions. All assignments marked “rewrite” must be rewritten and resubmitted to the instructor before the start of the next class unless otherwise specified. All late rewrites will be deducted one letter grade for each late class.

Late Policy:
Journalists live and die by deadlines. Papers not handed in at the start of each class they are due will automatically be marked down one full grade for each class period they are late. Papers handed in AFTER assignments have been collected, even if handed in the same day, are considered LATE and will be marked down accordingly.

Showing up is a key part of being a good journalist; you can’t get the story if you’re not there. For this reason, attendance is taken for each class. Missing more than three classes, for whatever reason, will result
in the final course grade dropping one full grade. Absences due to extreme emergencies, illness and other legitimate reasons must be submitted in writing with appropriate documentation.


The course grade will be based on several factors: mid-semester and final exams, any quizzes, written assignments and stories, classroom performance, participation in discussions and attendance. Specifically, written assignments are graded on the following five elements:

  • Correct grammar and usage of the English language
  • Correct spelling and punctuation
  • Logical organization of thoughts
  • Focused ideas and support of those ideas through quotes, background information and facts
  • Writing clarity and style

I look for improvement in research and writing throughout the semester, and assignments that continually exhibit the same mistakes without any signs of effort at improvement or correction will receive increasingly lower grades as the semester progresses. Students who improve in their “trouble areas” will not experience progressively worse grades.

Specific grading is as follows: The mid-semester exam is 15 percent of the final grade; the final exam is 20 percent; class participation and attendance is 15 percent; written and research assignments are 20 percent and the course project and presentation is 30 percent. Borderline grades will always be influenced by attendance and participation.

Class Climate:

Western Michigan University is a community defined by six core principles. It is a purposeful community, a caring community, a celebrative community, a disciplined community, an open community, and a just community. In this classroom we will try to support and enact these values. I try to create a relaxed, supportive, and comfortable classroom environment. However, do not equate this atmosphere with a lack of academic standards. I expect to do my best and I expect your best efforts as well. Please respect the rights of other class members. If you are late for class, enter the classroom with as little disruption as possible. If you must leave the class early, leave with as little disruption to the activity in the class as possible. Never do either of these activities in the midst of a fellow classmate’s presentation.

Please remember that activities that we may engage in without much conscious thought and consideration for others in our own homes may violate the rights of other learners in the classroom setting. For example, eating in class or whispering to other class members while the professor is lecturing or a fellow student is talking are not acceptable behaviors. Further, tardiness demonstrates a lack of respect for others and violates the values of this learning community.

Finally, in this class the basic dignity and worth of all human beings are to be respected. Any comments, jokes or remarks which denigrate the worth of an individual because of his/her gender, race, religion, ethnic background, sexual preference, etc. are inappropriate and unacceptable. This is not an issue of political correctness but rather an issue of civility, self-discipline, and good manners.

Academic Misconduct:

This term covers academically unethical practices such as cheating on exams, plagiarism or the copying of other people’s assignments. Academic integrity and personal honesty are two of my most highly held values. Those committing academic misconduct in this course at minimum will fail the assignment and the course, but may be subject to more severe penalties in accordance with departmental and University guidelines.

You are responsible for making yourself aware of and understanding the policies and procedures in the Graduate (pp. 24-26) Catalog that pertain to Academic Integrity. These policies include cheating, fabrication, falsification and forgery, multiple submission, plagiarism, complicity and computer misuse. If there is reason to believe you have been involved in academic dishonesty, you will be referred to the Office of Student Judicial Affairs. You will be given the opportunity to review the charge(s). If you believe you are not responsible, you will have the opportunity for a hearing. You should consult with me if you are uncertain about an issue of academic honesty prior to the submission of an assignment or test.

Other advisories:
It is acceptable for students to use research, reporting or writing done for other classes as part of assignments, however, be aware that completed assignments must meet all requirements for THIS class. Additional research and writing is always necessary in these cases. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that other professors allow cross submission of assignments from other courses.

Students are encouraged to write for the Western Herald. Be advised that writing submitted to the Herald automatically becomes a “work for hire” as defined under intellectual property law, and the Herald controls copyright, not the author. It is plagiarism or theft to put your name to someone else’s writing or property. Therefore, you must notify the professor in advance if you submit an assignment in this or any other journalism class that has been submitted or will be submitted to the Herald.

Required Reading:
Killenberg & Anderson, “Before the Story: Interviewing and Communication Skills for Journalists”
Schlein, “Find It Online: The Complete Guide to Online Research,” 2nd edition
Houston, “Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide”
Goldstein, “The Associated Press Style Book and Libel Manual,” newest edition (OPTIONAL)
Reading assignments given by instructor

Course Outline (Subject to change at professor’s discretion)


Jan. 9: Course introduction. Procedural matters. Assignment: Email me name, address, phone number, email, and major by Jan. 11 at noon

Jan. 14: News values and Sourcing.

Jan. 16: Developing story ideas. Outside assignment: Read handout on rural health care from the Chicago Tribune by Prof. Christian. Answer the following questions and hand in your typewritten answers and the story copy at the start of class on Jan. 23: 1. Story Focus: What is the main point of the story? Write the main point in a sentence or two. 2. Reporting: Give three examples from the story of how that main point was supported by reporting or quotes or examples. 3. Writing: A. Describe how the story starts. B. Describe how the story ends. C. Describe the tone of the story. (Is it confrontational? Informative? A profile of a person or people? ALSO: Read SCHLEIN Chapter 2: Framing your search strategy

Jan. 21: No class. Martin Luther King Jr. convocation and activities.

Jan. 23: CAR: Using the Internet for Story Ideas

Jan. 28: Story idea conferences (Sprau #221)
Outside assignment: Read Schlein, Ch. 8: News Resources Online

Jan. 30: Class meets at Waldo Library at 10 a.m. Waldo Library Research Project
Come prepared with a story idea with which to conduct your research.

Feb. 4: Story conferences. Outside assignment: Read Schlein, Ch. 3: General Search Tools


Feb. 6: CAR: Developing and using research strategies
Outside assignment: Read Houston, Ch. 7. Getting Stories by Going Online

Feb. 11: CAR: World Wide Web/Internet
Outside assignment: Read Schlein, Chapter 4: Specialized Tools

Feb. 13: CAR: Background research: Finding people, finding sources of information
Outside assignment: Read Schlein, Ch. 6: Government Sources Online and Ch. 7: Public Records

Feb. 18: Government documents/public records
Outside assignment: Read Houston, Chapter 3: Spreadsheets: Conquering Numbers; Chapter 4: Database Managers: Going from the Rolodex to Matchmaking

Feb. 20: Databases/spreadsheets. Shoe leather and research assignment due.

Feb. 25: Mid-Term Exam


Feb. 27: Interview Basics
Outside assignment: Read Killenberg, Ch. 2: Meeting People

Mar. 4 and 6 - Spring Recess

Mar. 11: Asking the right questions. The dynamics of an interview
Outside assignment: Read Killenberg, Ch. 3: The Question of Questions

Mar. 13: Learning to listen critically, creatively.
Outside assignment: Read Killenberg, Ch. 4: Reporters as Listeners

Mar. 18: Interviews/Conferences


Mar. 20: Writing for story

Mar. 25: Interviews/conferences

Mar. 27: Writing clinic. Interview reports due.
Outside assignment: Read Schlein, Ch. 11: Evaluating Accuracy, Credibility and Authority; Read Killenberg, Ch. 5: Assessing People and Information

Apr. 1: Evaluating information.

Apr. 3: Editing and the news process. Class project drafts due. Source lists due.
Outside assignment: Killenberg, Ch. 8: Interviewing Ethics

Apr. 8: Media ethics. Class projects handed back. Rewrites begin.

Apr. 10: Exam review/writing clinic

Apr. 15: Class project presentations. Project is due at the start of class on April 15. No exceptions.

Apr. 17: Class project presentations

Final Exam -- Thursday, April 25 at 10:15 a.m. - 12:15 a.m.