Reporting (404-481)

stanford.reportersSpecialized journalism
Four hours lecture and laboratory.

Prerequisites: COMS 104, COMS 204, COMS 130, COMS 230, or permission of instructor.

Bill Kovarik
Office hours: MWF 11-12
Basement, 704 Fairfax
Or by appointment

Strategies for computer assisted reporting, practice in gathering information from first-person participants and expert sources, and experience in writing investigative and exploratory articles and/or documentary scripts. The course concentrates on several themes evident in journalism today, including diversity reporting, community journalism, financial reporting, reporting for the Web, international issues and others.
3.000 Credit hours

Levels: Graduate, Undergraduate 2nd Degree, Undergraduate 3rd Degree, Undergraduate

About this course

Journalism is a skill for lifelong learning. You may spend the rest of your life in newsrooms, or perhaps you will never venture into the profession. Either way, journalism is a skill that is useful in a thousand other walks of life. Being able to find facts and report on them, in any context, is extremely valuable.

This is a “hands-on” class, the last of four writing courses required for journalism students at Radford University.  When you successfully complete this course, you will have acquired the skills to plan, report, write and edit for all kinds of specialized beats.

You will also be able to pitch enterprise stories and write more complex stories with some level of proficiency. We will be writing for all media formats — print, broadcasting, and online.

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, VPA or other journalism competitions.

Basic information


  • AP Styleboook  (required)
  • Data Journalism (free or available as ebook or printed book)
  • Inside Reporting by Tim Harrower (from previous reporting classes)
  • Roy Peter Clark Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer — ISBN 978-0316014991 ( or Any edition)

Class time and locations   PF 173,  1:00 – 2:50 MWF

Instructor and Office Hours   Prof. Bill Kovarik, PhD  email wkovarik  at ph:540 – 831-6033 Office hours 1 – 2  MWF 704 Fairfax basement

Essential tools:   Reporters notebooks, digital audio recorder, digital camera, laptop or other writing device, mobile phone

Basic Policies  

  • Attendance policy: Absence of more than 10 percent of the class will result in corresponding percent decreases in the grade. Missing more than 40 percent of the class would mean a D for an otherwise A student and so on.
  • Late policy: Late completion of projects will result in reduction of grade by one letter grade per week.
  • Disabilities policy: We are glad to work with all students to accommodate disabilities on a non-discriminatory basis. Students with special needs may be required to clear accommodations through the disabilities resource office of the university.
  • 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.

How to turn in assignments

Turn in all assignments by posting them on your portfolio site. If they are in rough draft form, please send via email. Label with name, slug and class. (eg in three places:   the email subject line   the .doc file name itself   inside as you regular name-slug-date info    Please send all assignments in easy to read formats (such as doc but not docx or wpd). Only stories turned in on time can be rewritten for an improved grade. One week grace period before the grade clock starts ticking down.

Assignment deadlines

This class is your highest university priority.  There’s no point in majoring in journalism if you can’t ace this class and make your deadlines. Students with consistent problems meeting deadlines will be asked to withdraw from the class.

Assignment agenda  

Assignments will originate in several ways:   You will be given beat and story assignments at the start of the class. These will involve City Council, cops, school board, environment, Faculty Senate, Frats & Sororities, RU events, and others. Beats will rotate.

Spot news assignments from news organizations such as The Tartan (RU), Appalachian Voice, the New River Voice, the Radford Journal or the Roanoke Times.   Your stories will be published, one way or another.

There will be several quizzes on readings but no mid term or final exam.

Basic requirements:   Six spot news items, one major feature for both 404 and 481.  That’s 12 spot stories and two major features if you are registered for both classes.   Two of the seven should have a visual emphasis, either through photography, graphics or video.

Grading priorities on a point basis:

  • Quizzes on readings and NewsU modules: ___
  • Work on aggregation sites & calender: ___
  • Spot news (6):  ___
  • Visual storytelling: _____
  • Major feature: _____
    Needed for A= 1,000

How your news articles are  graded  

The ideal news story is a clear description of a significant public event or issue explained in terms that are understandable to the average reader, and reported with empathy for people involved.   Once an issue leaves the realm of public people and public issues, journalists need to be wary of ethical problems that may arise. ( For example, private people who may be victims of polluting industries should be treated ethically and with full respect for their privacy and ability to give informed consent to interviews. Refusals must be respected. Children should never be interviewed without parental consent. )

  • Concept – 20 points
    • Public interest – Is this something the affects everyone?
    • Reader interest – Is it important to, or interesting to, your readers?
    • Balance — Are all parties and interests given a chance to speak? Does the reporter avoid bias?
    • Significance — Does the story involve important questions, not things that are trivial or transitory or superfluous? (EG Impact of budget cuts on students as opposed to coverage of beauty pageants).
  • Reporting – 30 points   Effective translation of concept into reporting plan
    • Accuracy in all names, dates, events; avoids major factual errors
    • Thorough reporting, all relevant questions asked  All significant and accessible points of view respectfully reported.
    • Effective and ethical interviews
    • Inclusiveness in reporting – make an effort to include people who are sometimes overlooked.
  • Writing — 30 points  All work must be entirely original. No use of quotes from other news articles.
    • Follows standard submission template
    • AP style, proper grammar (spelling, verb tenses, punctuation, etc) The ideal story has no grammar or spelling mistakes and should be publishable without editing.
    • The lead should be short, compelling and very much to the point.  Personal examples help make a story relevant to the reader.
    • Quotes should highlight color and opinion, not facts. In radio or TV reporting,  appropriate ID and introductions of sources.   In all cases, appropriate attribution forms.
    • Well organized structure, good writing style – smooth transitions, keyword repetitions, S-V-O construction, uses active voice verbs
  • New Media — 20 points
    • These days, it’s not enough to just write a story about a topic.
    • Stories should have:
      • Multiple points of entry: sidebars, illustrations, photos, video or info-graphics.
      • Photos taken, subjects identified
      • Video or audio included in story
      • Maps, charts and infographics  Posting on appropriate blog or web site Other effective use of media
      • Promotion thru microblogs and social media
  •  Publication following instructor input  — professional or student media — 10 points.  You will get credit, even if you don’t follow instructors advice,  if the article is turned in via email 48 hours before your deadline.  In other words, you’re not compelled to follow the instructor to get extra credit; however, ignoring your instructor disqualifies you for extra credit.