Remembering the Groundwork of Journalistic Writing

Web Writing Assignment

First, let’s review the Blog Post 2 – Journalistic Web Story

Today will we remember the groundwork — the basics — of journalism.

All of you have some experience with these basics from COJO 2100 (Media Writing). It never hurts to refresh our memories about some key concepts of journalism, writing, and reporting.

Brainstorming for news ideas and finding your story focus can be difficult. But, it is necessary before you jump into a story.

First Things First. Don’t Suggest a Topic. Suggest an Angle.

What would you rather read about? (1) Student stress during finals week or (2) How a student organization offers massage, pet therapy, comedian performances, and healthy food during finals week to ease stress?

I bet story #2.

Story #2 has a strong angle, where story #1 is a general, vague topic.

I want you to write a story with a strong, specific angle.

How Can I Think of Story Ideas? –> Here Are Some Strategies

  1. Feature story about interesting people (who aren’t your friends or acquaintances), professors (read faculty bios on various department web pages), or businesses/organizations that the community might want to know more about.
  2. Events calendars:
    WyoCal
    Albany County Public Library Events
    Albany County, Wyoming Government
    City of Laramie Events (LaramieLive)
  3. What are people talking about on social media websites? Is there a story idea there?
  4. Bulletin boards. Always read them for interesting events, speakers, and meetings.
  5. Problems, controversies, or major issues going on in students’ lives or the community. For example, what do students and faculty think about the idea of renovating the UW dorms?
  6. Calendar Stories and Anniversaries — Use the current moment to brainstorm a story idea. For example, it’s almost Valentine’s Day, which is also the same day this year as Lent and International Condom Day (huh, interesting). February is also Black History Month (what does Wyoming, or the K-12 schools, or UW do to celebrate Black History Month?).
  7. Trends — You can take an international or national issue and make it local (e.g., relate the #MeToo movement to a story on the SAFE Project or Sexual Harassment Training that UW requires of faculty and staff).

Brainstorming Session by Strategy

We will get into groups of 2-3 students. I will give you a manner in which to brainstorm (from the list above). You need to think of a story angle using that manner. Then, we will share ideas!

Your Role as a Media Content Creator

Understand the importance, significance, and gravity of your role in media content creation: You are responsible for the manner in which real people and real issues are portrayed to a public audience. Take that role VERY SERIOUSLY.

All content that you create needs to be fact-checked, accurate, fair, thoughtful and critically/purposefully executed.

We do not want to perpetuate stereotypes about groups of people, especially if the issue addresses sensitive, controversial, value-laden, or political topics. We want to be very mindful about how we report upon various people and issues.

Think critically about who you interview and why you are interviewing that particular person. We should work to include voices of multiple perspectives and people in our story.

Get comfortable interviewing people different than you and reporting on their perspectives and experiences with fairness, objectivity, respect, and open-mindedness (e.g., you will need to interview people who are different than you in terms of gender, race, age, ability, economic status, background, geographic origin, religiosity, or values).

Where Can I Find Sources?

  1. Expert sources: UW has a vast sea of experts in areas. Check out faculty members’ web pages in various departments.
  2. Journalistic sources: Consulting other media outlets’ past articles and issues can be helpful to locate sources and get ideas.
  3. Institutional sources: Social, cultural, professional, bureaucratic, or political organizations with particular special interests. Examples include political parties, government data, community volunteer groups, student groups, and sports clubs. You can find human sources as well as data from these sources.
  4. Scholarly sources: These are oftentimes highly credible and respected sources, and they are oftentimes undervalued and underused sources as well. Universities, scholarly research from the library, and medical and scientific research centers are examples.
  5. Informal sources: Observations about your surroundings. Take notes about what you and your subjects see, hear, smell, feel, experience.
  6. Sources to beware of: Wikipedia and other wikis, lesser-known blogs, and convenient sources like friends, neighbors, and family.

Brainstorming Session by Beats and Sources

Below are six beats. Story topics are below beats. Now, we will get into groups and you will be given a beat. Your goal is  to think of at least one story angle associated with that beat and find three concrete sources for the angle that you pick. We will share ideas after the short brainstorming session.

Arts & Entertainment

  • Art shows
  • Music performances
  • Ballet and dance studio work or performances
  • Plays and theater
  • Movie openings or screenings

Recreation & Sports

  • Hunting
  • Adult sports leagues
  • Youth sports
  • Snowy Range Ski Area
  • Vedauwoo cross-country skiing
  • Ice rink
  • Other winter recreation

Health, Wellness, & Safety

  • Healthy eating and nutrition
  • Stress management options and activities (e.g., yoga)
  • Wintertime activities to stay healthy
  • Counseling and mental-health related issues
  • Schools, childhood obesity, exercise, school lunches
  • Local organizations that support health, wellness, and safety

Local Businesses

  • Profile of a particular business
  • Downtown Laramie shopping
  • Competing with Wal-Mart and chain stores
  • Using social media and new media for local businesses

University-Related

  • Budget and fiscal crisis
  • Profile on a professor
  • Profile on an interesting student
  • Synergy program
  • Outreach program
  • Study abroad programs
  • Alcohol awareness programs
  • Student organizations (e.g., religious student orgs, non-traditional student orgs)

Volunteering

  • School and tutoring-related
  • Soup kitchens and poverty-related
  • Elderly and nursing/retirement home related
  • Volunteering overseas
  • Religious-motivated volunteering

For Next Time…Come To Class With At Least One Story Angle and Source List

About The Author

I'm a faculty member in Communication & Journalism at the University of Wyoming. At UW, I have taught online journalism, advanced new media, introduction to mass media, politics and media, and alternative media. At Ohio State, where I got my PhD, I taught research methods, news reporting and writing, visual communication, and persuasion. My reserach focuses on political communication, emerging media platforms, and entertainment media. In my spare time, I love to play with my daughters, hang out with my family, cook, hike, jog, read, and blog.