Monday, January 19, 2009

Inauguration story guidelines

Inauguration assignment guidelines (These can also be found under Course Information in Blackboard)

Look at the lead Washington Post story on the Mall concert yesterday for inspiration: Jamming on the Mall for Obama.

Some specific guidelines for the inauguration assignment:

The stories should be ABOUT 500-600 words, but that's a minimum requirement. If you do exactly 500 words, I'll assume you were more interested in counting words than telling the story you found.

Do look for stories. That is, be open to what you find that's interesting and makes a good narrative. You're not doing a "report" on your activities, but looking to be a reporter on the human stories that are out there. Of course, you'll have an idea of the focus of your story before you start out but be open to what really exists; don't force a point of view. Go toward the surprising and the interesting, not the mundane or expected.

Even though we haven't spent time on how to craft a news story, many of you have been exposed to that, and you'll find information on that in the rest of the reading packet you have. Part of your assignment is to finish reading that packet.

Things to keep in mind:
-- don't make it first-person. This won't be a first-person, personal essay. You can have lots of quotes and observation, but leave your personal opinion out. The watchword here is: "Show, don't tell." Describe and focus on facts and let your reader draw conclusions. Try to take a neutral tone; don't cheerlead.
-- interview at least five people and quote at least three in your story. Again, these are minimums. This does not mean that you should only interview five people. You should interview lots of people, and hopefully at least five will have interesting stuff to say, and three will be worth quoting. You want the best stuff from a whole lot of other stuff. Find out more information than you need.
-- look for background and context questions that you can answer with a little research on your topic.
-- don't sum up your story at the end, with comments like: "With all the diversity at the parade, it was heartening to see Americans coming together for such a moving experience." This is your opinion. If you are summing up what you've been telling your reader throughout your story, your reader already gets it, so you don't need to hit him or her over the head. Respect your reader for the intelligent person he or she is, and for appreciating all that you have told him or her in your enlightening story. Often, just ending with a good quote is the perfect way to go.
-- try to find trends among your interviewees and concentrate on those. Avoid leads that say there were a variety of opinions or a wide range of activities. Remember your audience. Find meaning and trends that tell your reader a story, not just a list of information or a "report."
--one way you can focus your story is by keeping it to the geographic location you were in. Be sure to spell it out in your story.
-- do your best with AP style. Some basic rules can be found in a link to the right on this blog.
-- watch out for grammar and usage, as well as run-on sentences -- one thought to a sentence.
-- you may NOT interview family and friends for your story.
-- always get the full name, spelled correctly, of your subject, along with where he or she is from, age (if appropriate) and other identifiers such as occupation (especially if it's pertinent to the story). Write down what they say exactly. Get them to repeat, if necessary. Record it, if possible.
--identify yourself as a journalism student from American University who is writing a story that will be published online.

Ok, I've said my spiel. Now, for the Eagle and Twitter stuff: To participate in the Twitter feed, simply Tweet from your own log-in and at the end of your comment, put this: #inaug09, and it will go to the site. To see if it's working, put in your tweet and then search for #inaug09 at For the Eagle, you may e-mail photos and video to Andrew Tomlinson at or take them via flash drive to the Eagle office on the second floor of MGC -- either Tuesday or Wednesday. You should do either the Twitter feed OR the Eagle contribution in addition to your story.

As for deadlines, bring a rough draft of your story to the next class. Also bring your notes, and we will try to do some work on the stories in class.

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