Religion Reporting & Writing (JOUR 4426/7426)

Syllabus JOUR 4426/7426

Religion Reporting & Writing | Spring 2009

(subject to change)

Schedule: Spring Semester 2009, 2008-09 Academic Year

Time & Location: Tues/Thursday 9-10:15 a.m., 206 Neff Hall

Instructor: Dr. Debra L. Mason
Office location & mail: 131 Neff Annex
Office Phone: 573-884-6295
Cell Phone: 614-313-0441
Home Phone: 573-445-2484
Email: MasonDL@Missouri.edu OR MasonDL@RNA.org
Office Hours: Tuesday & Thursday 1-4pm, or by appointment
Facebook hours: Most Monday & Wednesdays, 9-11am; 2-4pm

Course Overview:
It is impossible to be a journalist and not understand something about religion. Religion has been at the center of events and movements for several decades. The events of 9/11 further brought religion and values more sharply into focus as a major element of American culture and as a renewed area of challenge to American journalism. No other topic is as complex or nuanced as religion. As a result, the news media—regardless of whether print, broadcast, or online—struggle to report on the topic in ways that improve the public’s understanding of religion and its role in national and world events. Most people, including journalists, know little about faiths outside their own. As the United States becomes more religiously diverse, this trend has compounded problems with the coverage of religion.

JOUR 4426/7426 is a small seminar in reporting and writing religion. We’ll look at how to cover religion while working on a special project on religion and race. Overt racism is one legacy of public response to Barack Obama’s presidential bid. The controversy over Obama’s pastor, efforts to sway religious voters, and attempts to vilify Obama by calling him a Muslim all show religion and race remain painful points of contention in the U.S. In this advanced-level class, you’ll produce a package for publication, broadcast or online, about race and religion here and beyond. Subjects covered in seminar sessions will include how to originate story ideas, reporting and researching religion news, useful web sites on religion and religion journalism, developing sensitivity to the religious and cultural language, building sources, best practices and a brief immersion into a diverse group of faiths. The end result will be a team project we expect to publish.

Course Objectives:

  • To expand students’ abilities to write about religion with balance, insight and accuracy
  • To build students’ resources on religion and to help them understand how and when to use them
  • To help students identify great stories and understand what makes a religion story good or bad
  • To expand students’ skills in multimedia reporting

Required Texts:
These are available at the University Bookstore, except the Reporting Religion guidebook & stylebook, both of which will be given on the first day of class.

  • “Reporting Religion: A Guide to Journalism’s Best Best” By Written by Diane Connolly and Edited by Debra L. Mason (provided free by instructor).
  • “Reporting Religion 2: A Stylebook on Journalism’s Best Beat” (provided free by instructor)
  • “How to be a Perfect Stranger,” edited by Stuart M. Matlins & Arthur J. Magida (4th edition)
  • “The HarperColllins Concise Guide to World Religions,” Mircea Eliade & Ioan P. Couliano, edited

Readings and Assignments:

Week 1
Jan. 20 Introductions / Syllabus
What is religion? What is race? What do we need to find “the story”?
Skills assessment. RL Quiz. Equipment, etc. Form Peer Groups. Equipment.
206 Neff Hall
Primer pp 1-36, p.78-79, by Thursday
By Thursday, leave with a list of info we need to conceive / shape our project. Form Peer groups.

Week 2
Jan. 27 Basics of the beat;
Guest speaker: Pulitzer Winner Michael Paulson, The Boston Globe
Multimedia
206 Neff Hall
Harpers: 58-94 (Christianity);
Paulson’s Ma Siss series.
Primer: 81-97.
Primer: 39-51.
Report back with some of the answers; What ideas are forming to explore for stories?
Groups meet to form game plan.

Week 3
Feb. 3 Guest speaker: Bruce Nolan
Resources in Religion
206 Neff Hall
Stranger: 1-24;36-45;58-69;77-99;159-203;228-318;339-382
(Christian groups)
Reading Discussion: Of the various Christian groups you read about, which three are the most similar in what happens during worship; which three are the most dissimilar and why? Did the info in Stranger conflict with Harper? If so, how?
Peer Group check-in. / Grad projects due.

Week 4
Feb. 10 Covering Islam;
206 Neff Hall
Harper: 123 (Islam); Blackboard Readings;
Primer: 65-68;
Stranger: 110-123 (Islam);319-338 (Sikh);
Elliot Pulitzer series
Peer group check-in
Reading Discussion: Why is it so hard for Western journalists to report accurately about Islam? What were the four most surprising things you learned from the readings; What made them surprising? Due Tuesday, Feb. 17.

Week 5
Feb. 17
Chris Hedges speaks
206 Neff Hall
Harpers: 167-183 (Judaism); Stranger: 132-158 (Judaism);
Primer 59-63 (Judaism)
Peer group check-in: Story #1 Due on Tuesday. Returned Thursday.
Reading Discussion: What surprised you about the readings on Judaism? If you drew a line of conservative to liberal, which groups would be on which end? Why is the reality of ethnic and religious Jews a problem for journalists?

Week 6
Feb. 24
206 Neff Hall
Stranger: 124-131 (JW);
204-215 (Mormon);
25-34 (Baha’i) Peer group check-in: Final of Story #1 due Thursday.
Reading Discussion: What makes covering these groups difficult? What ideas do you have for improving how we cover religious minorities? (Due Tuesday, March 3)

Week 7
Mar. 3 Individual meetings either day; No official class meeting. Signups to come.
Sit in on Cross Cultural lecture
206 Neff Hall
Peer group check-in.
Reading Discussion: TBD

Week 8
Mar. 10 The problem with numbers
The world of online religion
Blogs, second life, etc.) Different styles.
206 Neff Hall
Harper: 25-43 (Buddhism) 218-223 (Shinto)
245-246 (Tibetan Buddhism);
Stranger: 46-57 (Buddhism);
Primer: 72-73 (Buddhism)
Blackboard readings
Peer-group check-in.
DUE Tuesday, March 17 Reading Discussion: Of the non-monotheistic faiths, why do you think it is Buddhism that has been adapted into Christianity and Judaism more than any other non-Western faith? What difficulties does Buddhism present to reporters? Due Tuesday, March 17t

Week 9
Mar. 17 Visit Mosque on Thursday
World Demographics. Mosque Readings on blackboard (various religion stories)
(Reminder) DUE Tuesday, March 17 Reading Discussion: Of the non-monotheistic faiths, why do you think it is Buddhism that has been adapted into Christianity more than any other non-Western faith? What difficulties does Buddhism present to reporters?
DUE Tuesday, March 31: Read these news reports listed on Blackboard. Which was your favorite and why? Which was your least favorite and why? Comment on EACH story as to why you think I picked it for you to read.

Week 10
Mar. 31 Guest speaker April 2 on Culture and Translation
206 Neff Hall
(Readings on Blackboard)
Lobdell readings, Buddenbaum Neiman article Rough draft of stories due to group for edits on Tuesday. Edits back to Group by Thursday
(Reminder) DUE Tuesday, March 31: Read these news reports listed on Blackboard. Which was your favorite and why? Which was your least favorite and why? Comment on EACH story as to why you think I picked it for you to read.
DUE Tuesday. April 7: Read articles listed for this assignment. Discuss what you think of Lobdell’s LATimes article. What dangers do you see to a journalist’s faith when reporting religion? What benefits to a journalist’s faith when reporting religion.

Week 11
Bill Lobdell. The faith of journalists.
206 Neff Hall
Harper: 128-139 (Hinduism);
Stranger: 100-109 (Hinduism); Primer: 70-71 (Hinduism)
Blackboard readings
Lobdell speaking 7pm or Noon on April 7th.
DUE Tuesday, April 14:
What is the most surprising thing you learned from the readings about Hinduism. What particular problems or issues does Hindu practice pose to journalists and why.
Final story #2 due Sunday at 5pm (April 12).

Week 12
April 14
Hindu Temple visit
206 Neff Hall
Blackboard readings on criticism of religion news, civility, etc.
(Reminder) Final story #2 due Sunday at 5pm (April 12).
(Reminder) DUE Tuesday. April 14: What is the most surprising thing you learned from the readings about Hinduism. What particular problems or issues does Hindu practice pose to journalists and why.
Peer-group check-in.
Due April 21: Reading Discussion. What makes a good religion story? What makes a bad one? Why is religion so difficult to get right? What biases does Mattingly have? Due April 21.
Draft multimedia story due to team Tuesday, April 21.

Week 13
April 21 Civility on the beat; blogging and other new media issues.
Guest Video Chat: Dan Gilgoff or Tim Townsend;
Lessons learned
Thursday:
Ethics (guest speaker)
206 Neff Hall
Blackboard Readings
Harper: 163-166, (Jainism); 247-55, (Zoroastrianism);
Stranger: 70-76 (Christ Scientist) Harper: 235-240 (Taoism). (Reminder) Draft multimedia story due to team Tuesday, April 21.
Peer group check-in. Packaging, format, multimedia
(Reminder) Due April 21: Reading Discussion. What makes a good religion story? What makes a bad one? Why is religion so difficult to get right? What biases does Mattingly have? Due April 21.
DUE Tuesday, April 28 Reading Discussion: Except for Taoism, the other groups you read about are dying religions. What about their beliefs or practices do you think has made it difficult for the religion to survive or thrive in the world? Due Tuesday April 28.

Week 14
April 28 Packaging, editing, photos, online, multimedia
Orthodox visit
206 Neff Hall
Harper 11-24 (African); 48-51 (Celtic); 194-201 (Native Am);
214-217 (Shamanism);
Stranger, 216-227 (Native);
(Reminder) DUE Tuesday, April 28 Reading Discussion: Except for Taoism, the other groups you read about are dying religions. What about their beliefs or practices do you think has made it difficult for the religion to survive or thrive in the world? How should journalists cover religions like these? Due Tuesday April 28.
All final versions of stories turned in. Sunday, May 3
DUE THURSDAY, May 7 Reading Discussion: What similarities, if any, do you see among these mostly indigenous groups? What difficulties are there in trying to attend religious events for these groups?

Week 15
May 5 Packaging, editing, photos, online, multimedia
Sharing on Thursday
206 Neff Hall
(Reminder) All final versions of stories turned in.
Sunday, May 3
May 7 Final deadline for peer & self-assessment
(REMINDER) DUE THURSDAY, May 7 Reading Discussion: What similarities, if any, do you see among these mostly indigenous groups? What difficulties are there in trying to attend religious events for these groups?

Grading:
All grading will be done with letter grades, weighted according to the proportions below:

  • Attendance & Participation in class (10%):
  • Active and consistent attendance at weekly meetings and in scheduled one-to-one working conversations with the instructor. Included in this portion of the grade is knowledge of and quality of participation in discussions of weekly readings.
  • Reading responses (10%):
  • You’ll be asked to write brief (250-300 words max) response to the weekly readings (about 10 total). Please respond using the discussion questions listed here or on Blackboard.
  • Team Participation & Peer Editing (20%): Your work will be edited and honed by your peers. The class will be divided into two or three teams (depending on final numbers). I’ll ask you to evaluate how everyone in the team worked, and do a self-evaluation at the end of the course.
  • Field Work (10%): The best way to learn about religion is to experience it. We’ll have some organized field trips, but in other cases, you’ll be asked to attend worship services at other religious institutions. You are expected to attend three external events/activities and comment on them very briefly (300 words max) on the class Blackboard site. Activities must be approved and in the case of attending worship services, you may not attend a service for your own tradition.
  • Class Project (50%):

We will operate as though we are a religion projects team, spending the semester working on a series of news stories and related components, for eventual publication / distribution in one of MU’s media outlets or for presentation on a website. We’ll talk more about this in the next class. You’ll be peer-evaluated on your effort and evaluated on the final project by me. Each person’s contribution to the project is three stories and some multimedia component. See attached Grading rubric. Each story requires multimedia components.

Graduate Students (P/F):
Graduate Students are expected to each research components for a source guide about our project on religion and race. The source guide will include listings of potential sources, scholars, pertinent institutions, clergy, social service groups and other pertinent information. (Much of this already exists and is easy to get. You will just be pulling it all together.) The Source Guide will be completed by the end of Week 3. See Dr. Mason to discuss this further. “P” needed on this assignment to pass the course.

A+ = 100 – 98 A = 97 – 94. A- = 93 – 90 B+ = 89 – 87. B = 86 – 83 B- = 82 – 80.
C+ = 79 – 77 C = 76 – 73. C- = 72 – 70 D+ = 69 – 67. F=66 and below.

Field Experiences:
The following is list of suggested field experiences. Everyone must attend at least one worship service of a faith outside your own, plus three other field experiences. You may do more than :

  • Feb. 17 (7pm): Chris Hedges “The Looming Collapse of the American Empire”
  • Feb. 18 (7pm) and/or 19th (5-6:30pm): Ishmael Beal “Narrative as a pathway to reconciliation.”
  • Feb. 26 (11-11:50 am): Anne Garrels, Author of Naked in Baghdad.
  • March: TBA – True False Film on Burma (Details to come). Possibly other True/False films as well.
  • March 5: Acting on Faith (free movie)
  • March 6: Tom Junod: Keeping it Personal Where does narrative journalism go from here?
  • April 7 (Tentative): Bill Lobdell
  • Date TBA: Jonathan Schell
  • Worship services: Friday afternoon prayers at the Mosque; Saturday morning prayers at the Synagogue; A service at the Orthodox Christian Church; Attendance at a predominantly African-American Pentecostal church. Others if approved.

JOUR 4426 / 7426 Grading Rubric for Class Project Work:

Guidelines for Critiquing Advanced Reporting Stories

1. Angle or angle: Is it stated or implied near the beginning of the article? Clear? Consistently applied throughout the article?

2. Evidence of search strategy; sources: Evaluate the information base of the story—the completeness of the information, the variety of sources. Identify the number and type of sources used in the story. Assess source credibility and credentials. How effectively are sources used? Are sources—both documentary and personal (interview) ones–sufficient?
Remember that journalism is more than just calling up a few “talking heads.”

3. The lead and the closing: Consider strategy, style, vocabulary. Storytelling elements—characters, settings, conflict, suspense, resolution.
Is the lead a compelling way to start the article? If the lead is a summary, is it because the material demands a summary lead? Or would another type (quotation, anecdotal, narrative, direct-address, descriptive, etc.) more effectively lead the reader into the story?
How does the lead work with the rest of the story? Can you identify other good possibilities for a lead, perhaps buried in the article?
Does the ending provide a satisfying way to wrap up the story? (For instance, it might summarize the key points of the story just told and/or leave the reader with a poignant reflection. Or perhaps it refers to a metaphor introduced earlier as a way to underscore the story’s angle.) Does it avoid introducing totally new information that may leave the reader with too many questions?

4. The flow of the story: Consider transition links and devices; repetition and key words; change of pace.
Mark any spots in the story where you wanted to quit reading.

Elements of audience interest: attention-getting, focus, perspective.
Identify ways that the story develops audience interest. Underline the significant elements and state why interest is developed. Identify areas in which audience interest needs improvement.

5. Conciseness: Examine the story for conciseness failures. Show the grammatical patterns that lead to these conciseness problems. Some possibilities:
Imprecise diction, such as vague verb + adverb when a single, more precise verb can
suffice
Phrases and clauses where simple modifiers can be used
Redundancy
Passive Voice (including superfluous “there is” and “there are” constructions)
Meaningless modifiers such as “generally” and “basically”

6. Simplicity: Identify what you take to be two or three good examples of complex ideas that are stated simply.
Identify some material that needs improvement in simplification. Try to simplify effectively and accurately.

7. Tone: What is the tone of the article throughout? Is the tone suitable for the subject treated? Are some words, phrases, and/or passages at odds with the tone?

8. Language: Vocabulary choice; vocabulary level; symbolic language; metaphor; embellishment; word play.

9. Use of literary techniques: Does the writer use scene-setting, description, dialogue, dramatization, etc. appropriately, creatively, and effectively?
Rate the effectiveness of: examples and anecdotes; dialogue.
Quotation: Analyze indirect and direct quotes. Would some material be more effectively presented as direct quote or as indirect quote? (Note: primarily factual material need not be stated as a direct quote, as in a news story. Instead, ascertain its veracity by using multiple sources, then state as fact, perhaps with indirect attribution. Reserve direct quotes for material that is more interesting and colorful, that reveals nuances of the speaker’s character/style.)

10. Audience/market analysis: Is the proposed audience appropriate? Will the audience understand the information presented? Diction? Syntax? Examples? Etc.
Can you name additional audience/markets?

11. Multimedia components, info graphics, sidebars, extras:

Grading Guide:
A: This story is outstanding and distinctive. It meets the assignment with a fresh, engaging and insightful thesis. It develops original ideas with concise and lively language. It is focused, has a clear sense of purpose and a fluid, logical organization. It is non-flagging in its address of audience; it anticipates readers’ prior knowledge, questions and expectations. Paragraphs are well-developed and they show coherence, unity (both as a unit and as part of the entire essay), and complex organization. Sentences are varied and carry sophisticated ideas using appropriate techniques of coordination and subordination. Words are fresh and well chosen. The story contains few stylistic or mechanical errors. If any are present, they aren’t distracting enough to undermine the story’s power.

B: This story, like the A story, goes beyond typical responses to the assignment. “Beyond typical” means that the writer has chosen a promising and non-obvious topic, and has developed it insightfully with fresh and lively language. The topic is appropriate to the assignment and pitched in a way that engages the reader. The story is well organized and developed. The writer makes a clear commitment to the reader and shows a strong sense of audience and purpose. General statements are supported, the voice is fairly steady and, for the most part, the style non-distracting. Words are well-chosen and sentences are varied. The primary things holding this story back from an A may relate to ideas that are perhaps unevenly or inadequately developed and minor grammatical/stylistic errors that may work against the author’s authority.

C: This story covers all or most of the bases and should not be confused with a “failing” story. Instead, this is a story that is made typical by either a lack of interest or time on the part of its author. The C story fails to fully engage readers–it hasn’t found its “hook.” This story may focus on appropriate topics and demonstrate basic understanding of the assignment. It advances a reasonable thesis, but that thesis might not be clearly stated, or might be ineffectively located. Sections of this story may be inadequately or unevenly developed. Relevant supporting detail is used in the story, but the examples are not explicated fully enough. The story may derive too much from its sources, or for other reasons may include ideas that are unoriginal or typical. The story’s organization is basically clear, but may present some gaps in logic or uniformity. The story lacks the sharpness of focus and vivacity of insight that characterize the B and A storys. The style is readable; the story contains few errors or misuses of grammar, mechanics, diction and/or sentence structure.

D: This is a story that begins to meet the requirements of the assignment but is generally weak. Its thesis or viewpoint is not limited enough or, perhaps, not stated clearly enough. Alternatively, the thesis may be clearly supported, but the support offered may not be wholly accurate or relevant but in any case is insufficient. The organization may be loose and, in some places, perhaps confusing. The voice and tone may be inconsistent or somewhat inappropriate, and the style makes it difficult for the reader to understand what is being said. The sentence structure is at times awkward; the diction, vague or ambiguous; and the handling of grammar and mechanics, incorrect enough to be seriously distracting to the reader. A story with content that is essentially derivative or shows misunderstanding, a story that loses its focus or point of view or that is essentially vague is likely to receive the grade of D.

F: The failing story usually has several interrelated flaws in viewpoint, content, organization, voice, tone and style, and it is the combination of flaws that renders the story essentially ineffective. Among the most serious of these flaws are lack of a controlling viewpoint, a thesis that is unclear, lack of development or supporting detail; absence of any apparent organizational plan; a voice and tone that alienate the audience; and a style that is unreadable either because of the vagueness and imprecision or because of the magnitude of its deviations from the conventions of Edited American English. A story whose point is difficult to decipher, a story whose content is almost entirely derivative and shows serious misunderstanding of the subject, or a story that does not respond directly and fully to the assignment will most likely receive a grade of F. A story containing plagiarism will also receive a failing grade.

Ethics & Behavior:

Academic Honesty
Academic honesty is fundamental to the activities and principles of a university. All members of the academic community must be confident that each person’s work has been responsibly and honorably acquired, developed and presented. Any effort to gain an advantage not given to all students is dishonest whether or not the effort is successful.

Academic misconduct includes but is not limited to the following:

  • Use of materials from another author without citation or attribution.
  • Use of verbatim materials from another author without citation or attribution.
  • Extensive use of materials from past assignments without permission of your instructor.
  • Extensive use of materials from assignments in other classes without permission of your instructor.
  • Fabricating information in news or feature stories, whether for publication or not.
  • Fabricating sources in news or feature stories, whether for publication or not.
  • Fabricating quotes in news or feature stories, whether for publication or not.
  • Lack of full disclosure or permission from editors when controversial reportorial techniques, such as going undercover to get news, are used.

When in doubt about plagiarism, paraphrasing, quoting or collaboration, consult with your instructor. For closed-book exams and exercises, academic misconduct includes conferring with other class members, copying or reading someone else’s test and using notes and materials without prior permission of the instructor. For open-book exams and exercises, academic misconduct includes copying or reading someone else’s work.

Classroom Misconduct
Classroom misconduct includes forgery of class attendance; obstruction or disruption of teaching, including late arrival or early departure; failure to turn off cellular telephones leading to disruption of teaching; playing games or surfing the Internet on laptop computers unless instructed to do so; physical abuse or safety threats; theft; property damage; disruptive, lewd or obscene conduct; abuse of computer time; repeated failure to attend class when attendance is required; and repeated failure to participate or respond in class when class participation is required.

IMPORTANT: Entering a classroom late or leaving a classroom before the end of the period can be extremely disruptive behavior. Students are asked to arrive for class on time and to avoid early departures. This is particularly true of large lectures, where late arrivals and early departures can be most disruptive. Instructors have the right to deny students access to the classroom if they arrive late and have the right to dismiss a student from the class for early departures that result in disruptions.

Under MU policy, your instructor has the right to ask for your removal from the course for misconduct, disruptive behavior or excessive absences. The instructor then has the right to issue a grade of withdraw, withdraw failing or F. The instructor alone is responsible for assigning the grade in such circumstances.

Dishonesty and Misconduct Reporting Procedures
MU faculty are required to report all instances of academic or classroom misconduct to the appropriate campus officials. Allegations of classroom misconduct will be forwarded immediately to MU’s Vice Chancellor for Student Services. Allegations of academic misconduct will be forwarded immediately to MU’s Office of the Provost. In cases of academic misconduct, the student will receive at least a zero for the assignment in question.

Professional Standards and Ethics
The School of Journalism is committed to the highest standards of academic and professional ethics and expects its students to adhere to those standards. Students should be familiar with the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists and adhere to its restrictions. Students are expected to observe strict honesty in academic programs and as representatives of school-related media. Should any student be guilty of plagiarism, falsification, misrepresentation or other forms of dishonesty in any assigned work, that student may be subject to a failing grade from the instructor and such disciplinary action as may be necessary under University regulations.

University of Missouri-Columbia Notice of Nondiscrimination

The University of Missouri System is an Equal Opportunity/ Affirmative Action institution and is nondiscriminatory relative to race, religion, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability or status as a Vietnam-era veteran. Any person having inquiries concerning the University of Missouri-Columbia’s compliance with implementing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, or other civil rights laws should contact the Assistant Vice Chancellor, Human Resource Services, University of Missouri-Columbia, 130 Heinkel Building, Columbia, Mo. 65211, (573) 882-4256, or the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education.

Accommodations
If you have special needs as addressed by the Americans with Disabilities Act and need assistance, please notify me immediately. The school will make reasonable efforts to accommodate your special needs. Students are excused for recognized religious holidays. Please let me know in advance if you have a conflict.

ADA Compliance
If you have special needs as addressed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and need assistance, please notify the Office of Disability Services, S5 Memorial Union, 882-4696, or the course instructor immediately. Reasonable efforts will be made to accommodate your special needs.

Religious Holidays
Students are automatically excused for recognized religious holidays. Let your instructor know in advance if you have a conflict.

Intellectual Pluralism
The University community welcomes intellectual diversity and respects student rights. Students who have questions concerning the quality of instruction in this class may address concerns to either the Departmental Chair or Divisional leader or Director of the Office of Students Rights and Responsibilities (http://osrr.missouri.edu/). All students will have the opportunity to submit an anonymous evaluation of the instructor(s) at the end of the course.

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