News writing assignments
Assignment 1: Meeting coverage
Description of Assignment: Newspapers that cover geographic areas frequently send their reporters to cover meetings of city or county government or school boards. The meetings may seem dry, but readers count on their hometown newspaper to be there so they can keep abreast of what’s happening in their community. The meetings have been very important, as many local governments have been entrusted with spending billions of dollars in coronavirus relief aid from the U.S. government. Look at the websites for a handful of city councils or school boards in your area and find one that meets soon. If the agenda is not posted online, call the city or board clerk and ask for it to be emailed to you, along with the minutes from the previous meeting. See what issues are on the agenda and read your local newspaper’s clips to understand the background behind those issues. Then, show up at the meeting armed with a notebook or watch the meeting online (also armed with your notebook!). Write a story based on the meeting. Remember--you are not a stenographer. Your readers are relying on you to identify the most important element of the meeting and cover that as aggressively as possible.
Waterbury, Conn., is an example of a city that posts its meeting agendas online: http://www.waterburyct.org/content/9565/458/4301/default.aspx
The Jackson County Legislature, in Missouri, posts agendas, minutes, and videos online:
Assignment 2: Kenosha crisis
When people or organizations understand that a given topic will interest a lot of journalists, they usually call a news conference to meet the needs of the media. The goal is to convey a polished message to many media outlets at once, rather than in multiple interviews.
You are assigned to cover two updates on the mass unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after the shooting of Jacob Blake on Aug. 23, 2020.
The first is from Kenosha law enforcement, who had daily briefings on the events unfolding after the shooting. The next is from the family of Jacob Blake. (The dates of the news conferences were Aug. 28 and 29, 2020.)
Write a 600-word story based on these news conferences, with as many quotes as you can collect.
Clearly, you can’t be present to ask questions, so if you have any questions that were not answered, turn them in with this assignment.
Blake family press conference (two videos): https://www.kenoshanews.com/news/local/watch-now-blake-family-press-conference/article_41849029-09ad-5b11-a20c-4d06ac41538b.html
Assignment 3: Gametime
The sports page is often the most heavily read section in a newspaper, even during times of crisis or war. People like to have an escape from the headaches of the real world, and often turn to sports as a refuge.
At the same time, it’s likely your college has a team that hasn’t had a sports reporter show interest in a very long time. It’s time to right that wrong. Look at your college or university’s athletic schedule and find a game in the next week that you can make. Introduce yourself to a coach on the team and explain that you would like to write a game story for a class project that you can later self-publish on social media if you would like.
Get a roster of players, make sure you understand the rules of the sport, and attend the event. Afterward, make sure to interview the coach and key contributors to the game. Write an 800-word gamer.
Depending on guidelines from your local health department, you may need to watch a video feed or a recording of the game. But if you miss some nuances in the game, rely on your interviewing skills to fill in the blanks.
Don’t forget all the essentials mentioned in your textbook: The score, the atmosphere, the records of the teams, the history of the rivalry, and other elements are essential to a proper game story.
Below are some examples of gamers.
Assignment 4: Impact of the pandemic
For months throughout 2020, public policymakers relied on data from hospitals to make decisions about whether to close down the economy, require masks or decide whether children could safely be returned to school. In some metropolitan areas, major health systems combined to publicly report their shared data on the numbers of people admitted to and treated at hospitals. Sometimes released in daily briefings, these data releases provided a basis for important policy decisions.
Your assignment is to find an area that reported statistics on COVID-19 admissions, and track those data over a three week period. Compare the data trends to the statements from public officials to show how the real-time release of information aided public health.
In St. Louis, the area health systems formed the St. Louis Metropolitan Task Force. You can see the daily data releases on the task force’s public Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/StLouisMetropolitanPandemicTaskForce/
Assignment 5: Speech coverage
A speech may seem like the easiest type of event to cover for beginning journalists, but it presents unique challenges to the reporter. Boiling down a long speech into a short story takes some tough decision-making. What do you put in? What do you leave out? When do you use direct quotes, and when do you rephrase?
Look at your college or community calendar and find a time when someone well known will be in town for a speech. Give yourself enough time to research the speaker and the topic, so you will have a lot of background available for your story. The people who sponsored the event will have information for you.
Schedule some time with the speaker before or after the speech, and make sure you ask members of the audience what they think about the speech.
Write a 900-word story with plenty of good quotes from the speaker and reaction from the audience.
Below are the speeches of Donald Trump and Joe Biden accepting their parties’ nominations for president in 2020, and some coverage of each speech.
Trump coverage: https://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2020-53942667