COMS 104 News Writing

Basic News  Writing
Syllabus Summer 2014

Who:  Prof. Bill Kovarik, PhD
Email:   Also:
Ph: 540 – 831-6033
Office hours as posted 704 Fairfax basement

What: COMS 104  – 11827 – Section 01
Vital resources:   / D2L site
Instructor web pages:  

Where & when   TBA


  • Associated Press Styleboook — Any recent year
  • Tim Harrower’s Inside Reporting — We need the new Third Edition.
  • Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press mobile app (free) 
  • Data Journalism (free)
  • Advanced students: Roy Peter Clark Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (any edition)




Journalism involves skills for lifelong learning. You may spend the rest of your life in newsrooms, or on the other hand, perhaps you will never venture into the profession.

Even so, journalism involves skills that are useful in many other walks of life, including the ability to locate, evaluate and verify facts; to interview sources; and to write for a variety of media.

The COMS 104 course is the beginning of a process of learning this and other skills.  Other classes in the journalism training series include:

  • COMS 204 — News reporting
  • COMS 304 — Broadcast reporting
  • COMS 404 — Digital storytelling / Specialized reporting
  • COMS 481 — Journalism practicum
  • COMS 498 — Internship (optional)

This first course, COMS 104, is designed to help you acquire the skills to plan and write a news article, verify facts, become familiar with media technologies and understand the profession in general.

You will be strongly encouraged to join student media on campus; for example, you will receive extra credit when news articles are published in student or professional media, and even more extra credit if the articles are entered into competitions such as the SPJ, CMA, SEJ or VPA.


Instructor and Office Hours

Prof.  Kovarik, PhD
Official correspondence:    wkovarik at radford dot edu
Personal correspondence:  bill dot kovarik at gmail dot com
ph:540 – 831-6033
Office hours  704 Fairfax basement    MW 2- 3:30

Essential tools:

Reporters notebooks, digital audio recorder, digital camera, laptop or iPad, mobile phone.

Our learning goals for the semester include:

  • the journalist’s responsibility to be accurate, truthful, and fair;
  • the five news reporting essentials: who, what, when, where, and why (the Five W’s);
  • how to write a basic news lead and a variety of other kinds of leads
  • how to structure and shape the body of your story, from beginning to middle to end;
  • A moderate level of proficiency in media equipment — cameras, voice recorders, editing software
  • A high level of proficiency in basic writing — spelling, punctuation, grammar, and usage.
  • A moderate level of proficiency in the Associated Press style.
  • An initial familiarity with the news reporting profession, including its ethical issues, its storied history and its legal framework.
  • what you need to consider when you rewrite;
  • what it takes to meet a news deadline, and its importance;
  • what the AP Style is all about, and why it is important;
  • how to take notes accurately;

Assessment and evaluation

The COMS 104 class consists of a series of daily readings, quizzes, and writing exercises, both in and out of class.

Grading emphasis:

    • Quizzes & Exercises   – 20%
    • Writing assignments – 50%
    • Mid Term & Final Exams – 20% (10 percent each)
    • Project / portfolio – 10%

Grades are on a + and – basis.

The project is a reporting / writing / media assignment that is cleared with the instructor in advance and that helps tell a news story about events at the university or in the region.

Basic Policies

  • Attendance policy: Attendance counts towards your final score.  Missing class may also mean missing in-class quizzes.   That can’t be made up.
  • Late policy: Late completion of projects will result in reduction of grade by one letter grade per week. This is a very serious problem in a beginning news writing class.  You will not be allowed to stay in the class if you fall too far behind.
  • Honor Code: By accepting admission to Radford University, each students makes a commitment to understand, support and abide by the University Honor Code without compromise or exception.
  • Plagiarism — Students who directly copy work from anyone else will flunk the class and be reported to the Dean of Students office.
  • Disabilities policy:   If you are seeking academic accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act at Radford University, you are required to register with the Disability Resource Office (DRO).   To receive academic accommodations for this class, please submit your documentation to the DRO in the lower level of Tyler Hall Suites 54-69, by fax to 540-831-6525, by email to After submitting documentation to our office, you will set up an interview with a Disability Services Specialist to discuss accommodations. You will be notified via email once your accommodation package is complete and ready to be picked up. Once you have picked up your accommodation package, you will need to meet with each course professor during their office hours to review and discuss your package.  For more information and/or for documentation guidelines, visit or call 540-831-6350.


Catalog description of the course:  

COMS 104 – Basic News Writing

Four hours lecture and laboratory. Instruction and practice in basic writing for print and electronic media. Includes introduction to writing fundamentals, writing for news media, and use of expository, narrative, descriptive and persuasive approaches. This is a core course required of all Media Studies majors in the journalism concentration.
3.000 Credit hours

Levels: Graduate, Undergraduate 2nd Degree, Undergraduate 3rd Degree, Undergraduate
Schedule Types: Lecture/Lab




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