News writing assignments
Assignment 1: Twitterstorm—A class assignment
Description of Assignment: Of all the social media platforms, Twitter has become the dominant force for both disseminating and receiving short bits of information. Each tweet is sent to a group of followers the user has established.
Your assignment will take a few weeks to complete. The first step is creating a Twitter handle for a small group of newsgatherers, or one for the whole class. Give yourself a descriptive and accurate name, for example: Truman State News Group. Over several days, use that account to follow all of the movers and shakers in your community--the college administration, any professional journalists, or other prominent people. Chances are they will follow back.
When you finally have a healthy following of at least a few dozen, it’s time to report a story. Use a smartphone to cover a contentious city council meeting, or a football game. Share photos, short videos, and brief descriptions of what you experience. It’s OK to be somewhat informal, but write with a professional tone and steer clear of silliness or opinion. Follow the principles described in the textbook.
Assignment 2: The gun couple
Description of Assignment: Facebook has played a huge role in public discourse in many cities. In June 2020, St. Louis was the scene of several social justice protests. After a Friday morning protest that called for the city to close an old medium-security jail known as the Workhouse, Mayor Lyda Krewson in a Facebook Live briefing read the names and addresses of several protesters who had handed her suggestions for alternative city budgets. The move drew ire online, including a petition calling for Krewson’s resignation.
Two days later, protesters marched through the Central West End of St. Louis on their way to Krewson’s home. The protest entered a private neighborhood of mansions known as Portland Place. The residents of 1 Portland Place, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, came out of their home and waved guns at the protesters. The McCloskeys would ultimately face felony weapons charges. They would later tell national media their actions were reasonable because they feared the protesters were violent anarchists who had come to harm them, and that the protesters had entered their neighborhood by breaking down an iron gate.
The protest and interactions between the McCloskeys and protesters was also recorded on Facebook Live by at least two protesters, Derk Brown and Ohun Ashe. Your assignment is to use the Facebook Live footage to reconstruct the protest in detail. Be sure to report only what you see and hear and be careful not to ascribe motive to the actions of the protesters or McCloskeys.
Mark Mccloskey’s appearance on Fox News host Tucker Carlson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiIZTVuSUiY
Ohun Ashe Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lashell.eik/videos/10223882207185280
Derk Brown Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/derk.brown.5/videos/1545517372276703
Assignment 3: Blog it
Description of Assignment: The term “blog” is short for “web log.” In its purest form, a blog takes on a diary-style approach that demonstrates the writing style and mindset of the author in a way that is more personal than a traditional news article could. The most effective blogs are written in the first person, and loaded with insights into the author’s life and belief system. But an effective blogger cannot rely simply on personality. The best blogs have great reporting in them as well.
Here are four popular blogs:
- Nomadic Matt’s travel blog: https://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blog/
- CSS Tricks: https://css-tricks.com/
- Bustle, a women’s publication about everything: https://www.bustle.com/
- Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician (a Syracuse University sports blog): https://www.nunesmagician.com/
What about the writing style and reporting in these blogs (or others) appeals to you?
Now take what you’ve learned from your text and work on a blog in a small group of classmates. You can either work separately or together. The blog item should be written as if it were to appear in a blog about campus life, with the audience being other students at your college or university.
Assignment 4: IG me
Description of Assignment: Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, is a visually-based social networking tool that gives people the space to share photos and videos from their phones or other mobile devices. Unlike other forms of social media, Instagram is almost entirely designed for mobile use--you can’t even post to Instagram from a PC, although you can view Instagram posts from there.
Instagram is a place where words take a backseat to images, but captions are still important and help provide important context for the photo or video. Instagram has adapted to borrow elements of other popular social media apps. For example, Instagram (and Facebook) Stories, a feature that allow users to create a collection of images that expire after one day, is a blatant copy of the key functionality of another popular app, Snapchat. In 2020, Instagram added Reels, a response to another popular app for making short, entertaining videos, TikTok.
Instagram is a great tool for primarily print reporters to hone their photography skills. Using the principles behind the “rule of 3”--skim ahead in your textbook--spend 30 min out of class documenting campus life, finding beautiful or hidden scenes on campus that your audience will find interesting. Don’t forget to use the principles of interviewing you’ve already learned--make sure the people in your photos are identified in your captions and try to get a great quote for every picture.
Post three images and come back to class and compare your work with that of other students’. Which images were the most appealing?