Science Writing/JOUR 5812 Syllabus
Class meets in Armory 218 Tuesdays 9:30 - noon
Office Hours TBA
Office Phone: 303-492-3009
The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. It's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning
-- Mark Twain
This course is designed to help you acquire the basic skills and knowledge required of a science journalist. It is also designed to spur you to think critically about science and how it is covered in the media. During the course we will:
- Cover the journalistic nuts and bolts of reporting and writing on science.
- Discuss what science is, how science journalists cover it, and how science and science journalism intersect with society.
- Review topics of scientific importance.
- Go on field trips and have in-class discussions with scientists.
- Review the opportunities and pitfalls of being a science journalist, and discuss how to chart a successful career.
Class Theme:The writing assignments this semester and some of our discussions will focus on the issue of human domination of global environmental systems. In particular, we'll cover our domination of the climate system. Along the way, we'll examine politicization of the science of climate change, and also how the media has covered these issues. If there is time, we'll also look at the environmental impacts from our domination of the nitrogen cycle.
Writing assignments:They assume you know how to write well but have little journalism experience. The core of the class consists of science news stories that you will write and I will critique based on their suitability for publication. You will also critique each other's stories in class. The information you need to prepare these articles will come from presentations by scientists and your own reporting. For a final project, you will write a longer "enterprise" article on a subject you choose.
What you'll write:The specific assignments will include: one story memo/background paper, three full news articles, a query letter, a final project consisting of a longer, "enterprise" article, and possibly other assignments that I may add as we go along. You will have an opportunity to revise these assignments (with one exception) after seeing my comments; your final grade will be based on these revised drafts, not the originals.
Guidelines for article submissions:Please submit your stories electronically, as a Word file attached to an email message to me. Generally speaking, the news stories will be two to three pages long, double-spaced in Word. (I'll announce the specific lengths for each story ahead of time.) At the top of each assignment, please write your name, e-mail address, phone number, and the "slug" of the story (meaning a one word label). And please make sure each page is numbered.
Spelling, grammar, style:Persistent errors in your stories will reduce your grade. Journalism students: please follow the Associated Press Stylebook.
Deadlines:Meeting deadlines is critical in journalism. Please meet yours. Missing a deadline will result in a substantial reduction in your grade. If you consistently miss deadlines, you could fail the course.
Grading:I grade stories and other submissions on a standard A-F scale. With the articles, your first submission may require revisions. (My experience suggests that most first submissions will need revisions.) I will comment on what you need to do to move the article toward a publishable piece of work. And I will grade the revision, not the original.
Plagiarism:The copying of words or ideas from another person and claiming them as your own will result in an F for the assignment and very possibly for the course. The same sanction applies to fabricating information and other forms of academic dishonesty. A student honor code has been adopted in all academic units of the university. For more information, please go to http://www.colorado.edu/academics/honorcode/.
Reading Materials: There is no assigned text. But reading materials are linked from the online schedule. I may also hand out materials in class. Please read all assigned materials before class and be well prepared to discuss them.
Schedule:The schedule is tentative and will almost certainly change as we go along. Any changes will be announced in class. The class schedule is posted online at the URL listed at the top of the syllabus.
Staying Informed:It is essential that you keep up with what's happening in science by reading newspapers, magazines and online news sources. Bring to class articles you feel are particularly noteworthy. Here are a few publications to monitor:
- The New York Times online: The New York Times publishes Science Times, an excellent science section appearing every Tuesday.
- Science and Nature, two leading scientific journals, both provide weekly science coverage and are available online.
- Science News: A weekly science newsmagazine.
- New Scientist: More pizzazz than Science News.
- Scientific American: A popular monthly with a news section written by science writers and main articles written by scientists.
- Discover magazine: A monthly magazine for general readers on all topics related to science.
You can get RSS feeds of science news from these and other sources. Early during the semester, we’ll discuss how to do it.
Attendance and Participation:You are expected to attend all classes and to offer insights during class discussions. (Unexcused absences will lead to a lowering of your final grade.) Again, your careful reading of the assignments and knowledge of news events are essential for meaningful discussion.
In accordance with university policy, I will make every effort to accommodate students who, because of religious obligations, have conflicts with required attendance and assignments. But you must notify me at least two weeks in advance of the conflict to request special accommodation.
Students with Disabilities:
If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please submit to me a letter from Disability Services early in the semester so that your needs may be addressed. This office determines accommodations based on documented disabilities. You can reach Disability Services at 303-492-8671. The office is located in Willard Hall, Room 322. For more information, see www.colorado.edu/sacs/disabilityservices.
Three full articles and query letter
Attendance & participation: