Syllabus Spring 2020

Introduction to Journalism

Syllabus Spring 2020

Professor Barbara Nevins Taylor

917 678 6069


MCA  233-4PR-28707


We need curious journalists, willing to work hard to pursue the truth, perhaps more than ever before. This course aims to give you a theoretical and practical understanding of what it takes to become a journalist and the importance of journalism to democracy.

Despite attacks on reporters and news organizations by some political leaders, the right to practice journalism is embedded in the United States Constitution. The law of our land highlights the importance of honest reporting about government and those in power to ensure that they are accountable to the people.

The digital revolution transformed the way we consume and deliver news, but the important principles of reporting remain the same. Every day, we see that journalism comes in many forms and appears on every platform from traditional print newspapers and magazines, to online sites that offer broad content or specialize in niche information, to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Local TV news and network broadcasts continue to use traditional formats but increasingly are experimenting with social platforms. Podcasts and public radio have become go-to sources of information for millions. And like a surprise in a stack of Russian dolls, you’ll also find carefully reported news stories within the noise of some cable TV “news” programs.

Serious journalists who work for serious news outlets continue to share the age-old principles of journalism. Whether we report about politics, events of the day, culture, sports or entertainment, we share the same goals. Our curiosity drives us. We carefully observe situations and people and record or make note of what we see. We analyze, synthesize and lay out the facts to provide information that allows people to make informed decisions.

At this challenging time in our country’s history, we need accurate reporting and talented journalists willing to dig deep, write, record, shoot, produce and give unbiased context to what happens in our communities, the nation and the world.  Here in New York and elsewhere, we need committed journalists willing to go into our neighborhoods and report at ground level about what’s going on now. That’s what you’ll do for your class assignments.

In this class, you’ll learn how to write using the active voice to give your stories energy and power. You’ll learn how to identify what makes news, find, report and follow stories and gather information to craft into stories than can appear on multiple platforms.

Get ready to follow your curiosity, roll up your sleeves, put on your running shoes and practice journalism. Then see your stories posted on our class website, CCNY Introduction to Journalism-Truth Matters, or on HarlemView and Dateline CUNY.

I also hope that you’ll write for The Campus and share your work with the class and The Paper.

Course Learning Outcomes

This course will help you learn:

How to work ethically to find the truth, pursue accuracy, fairness and diversity, and report strong news stories.

How to use your analytic skills to determine what makes a news story.

How to think creatively, independently, and critically about local and world events.

How to gather information, synthesize complicated details, and craft a succinct, logical story with a beginning, middle and end.

How to write stories of 300 to 500 words for print, digital and other platforms.

How to gather information using photographs, video and audio effectively.

How to use math and statistics to provide context.

How to understand the changes in the media industry and what they mean for journalists and news consumers.

How to meet deadlines.

Required Reading

Download the AP app. It’s free. You must keep up with current events and the news. This will help you do it.

Get a free subscription to The New York Times. Read the NY Daily News online. Watch TV news, local and national. Try PBS NewsHour. Watch Vice. Listen to the radio. Try WNYC 93.9 in the morning. Use a news aggregator like Google News, Yahoo, Apple News, Gothamist, or Facebook Trending. Use Twitter.

Add news sources, elected officials and newsmakers to your Twitter feed. Associated Press @AP, @Reuters, @Bloomberg, @NYT, @WashingtonPost, @theroot, @fusiontv
Look for mainstream and diverse sources that offer different points of view. They can keep you up-to-date and engaged in the news.

Read this book:

The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The book is available for free in the City College library. I donated eleven copies.

You will need this information when you go to see the Reserves Librarian:

The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor : Call# G530 .V442 G3713 1987

You can take it out for three days.

Articles and links:

I will post articles, links and essays for you to read regularly on the class website and will include questions about the stories in the quizzes.

Writing Assignments

You will have at least three reporting and writing assignments that we’ll peg to what’s happening in the city, country and the world. You have the option to report and write more for extra credit. The best stories from the class will appear on HarlemView, our journalism website.


Our class meets once a week. We have a lot of ground to cover and that means you need to come to class and show up on time.

Two unexpected absences will mean you get a lower grade. If you must miss a class, email or text me in advance.

If you miss more than four classes we’ll ask you to withdraw from the course. Please don’t do this.

Three instances of lateness will count as one unexcused absence.

Please get into the excitement of journalism and come to class on time.


Assignments: 30 percent

Class participation and news quizzes: 20 percent

Midterm exam: 20 percent

Final grammar exam: 10 percent

Final writing, photography, video or audio project: 20 percent

Class Conduct

Please put away your digital devices and other distractions. We need your full attention. Multi-tasking and concentration don’t mix.

Journalism requires collaboration. We depend upon one another in newsrooms, in the field and in the classroom, and we need to play nice.

Students will present their work in class for review and we want to provide positive feedback that helps them move their work forward.

Analyze the work before you speak up and then offer constructive criticism. Try to start with something positive and then explain your criticism.

Please use a word processor and double space your assignments.


I’d like to keep you close to the news and our assignments may vary depending upon what happens in the news cycle. But theoretically you’ll have writing assignments to:

I’ll edit your work so that you can improve week by week and you’ll be expected to rewrite and submit several drafts, if necessary.

Class Calendar

***This may change as we move through the semester.

Week One

Thursday, January 30

Getting to know you. Introduction to class. What makes journalism

Objectivity and Bias. What’s the difference between opinion and news or facts.

What the United States Constitution guarantees and what journalists need to know to fulfill their mission.

Where does news come from?

What makes a news story?

How much do you know about your government?

How you can follow developments and report what’s going on.


Read, watch and listen to the news.

Check the AP app. It will help you with the weekly news quiz.

Write a 300-word essay to answer the following questions:

Who am I?

Where am I from?

Where am I going?

Include a photo. It doesn’t have to be of you. But it should express something about the story.

Deadline: Tuesday February 4 at 5 p.m.

Find out and write down the names of your city council member, assembly member, state senator, mayor, county executive, U.S. senators, U.S. representative, the police commissioner.

Find out the number of New York City council members and U.S. representatives to Congress. How many representatives does New York State have? New York City?

Begin to read The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor.

Week Two

Thursday, February 6

Anatomy of a news story. The basic elements and how we construct stories. The Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of Journalism. How to incorporate that in your story.

What’s a news angle?

Keeping yourself out of the story.

How to distill information quickly. My quick and dirty guide.

Writing workshop. We’ll review grammar and begin to understand active writing. Active writing exercises. How do we write numbers, time, addresses?

Using the Reuters’ Style Guide.


Read, watch and listen to the news.

Choose a candidate in the Democratic primaries and write a story in 400 words about how they are campaigning in South Carolina and Nevada.

Week Three 

Thursday, February 13

Special guest speaker Dyjuan Tatro from the Bard Prison Initiative and screening of a portion of the documentary, “College Behind Bars.”

After the screening, we’ll use the opportunity to interview Mr. Tatro as we would at a news conference.


Read, watch and listen to the news.

Finish The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor.

Week Four

Thursday, February 20

News Quiz including questions about The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor.

The art of the interview. How to conduct an interview with the President of the United States, a grieving mother, a celebrity, a child and anyone else. We look at examples in the news.

Telling stories with images. How to make every story better with photos and video.


Read, watch and listen to the news.

Read the story or stories provided.

There may be a reporting and writing assignment that follows the news cycle.

Week Five

Thursday, February 27

We visit a news organization.


We cover Super Tuesday. Details TBA depending upon the news cycle. Write a 500 word story about a candidate of your choice and how he or she fared in the primaries.

Week Six

Thursday, March 5

News Quiz

Ethics and copyright. Creative Commons licenses and how you find information, photos, video and music that you can legally and ethically use in your own work.

The difference between PR and news. We re-write a press release.


Read, watch and listen to the news.

Finish press release rewrite. Deadline Monday, October 14 at 5 p.m.

Week Seven

Thursday, March 12

News Quiz

Using data in your stories and how to find it.

We’ll workshop some examples.


Read, watch and listen to the news.

Week Eight

Thursday, March 19

We attend a news conference to report about it.


Read, watch and listen to the news.

Write 300 to 500 words about the news conference. Your report is due at March 24 at 5p.m.

We need at least one photo.

Week Nine

Thursday, March 26

News Quiz

How do you check facts?

How do you find reliable sources for your stories.


Read, watch and listen to the news.

Week Ten

Thursday, April 2

News Quiz

How history informs journalism. We look at White Supremacism.

Covering a story that’s important to you.

How do you find information to make it a broad story?

How to write a story pitch. Who looks at the pitch in a newsroom and who gives you approval to report a story?


Read, watch and listen to the news.

Write a pitch for the story you want to cover. If I give you the go-ahead, you might want to begin reporting.

Pitch due: at 5 p.m. April 3

Spring Break Enjoy!

Week Eleven April 8 to 16

Week Twelve

Thursday, April 23

News Quiz

Review of your pitches. Solving problems in research and writing.

Examples of stories that cover similar subjects.


Read, watch and listen to the news.

Report and write your story.

 First draft of stories due Tuesday, April 28 at 5 p.m.

Week Thirteen

Thursday, April 30

News Quiz

Review of stories.

How can you improve your writing and reporting?

Advocacy journalism and when it works for the public good.


Read, watch and listen to the news.

Work on your stories.

Week Thirteen

Thursday, May 7

News Quiz

Review of yours stories. Work on edits.

TV journalism, a quick look.


Finish your stories and submit the final draft by Monday, May 12 at 5 p.m.

Week Fourteen

Thursday, May 14

We review our stories and share a couple of pizzas!

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