J 395 Editorial Column Writing

J349T, J395-8 Editorial Column Writing

Syllabus - Fall 2009

Instructor: Mark Morrison


Office: CMA 7.252 Cell 512-626-7227

Office Hours: Mondays, Wednesdays 4-4:30 p.m. and by appointment.

Course description and learning objectives

Gain an understanding of contemporary social, professional and intellectual concerns in the practice of journalism.

The course focuses on opinion writing for print and online media. Major topics are strategies for finding editorial and column ideas, researching ideas, locating credible sources, persuasion techniques, establishing an effective style and tone, and writing for diverse audiences.

Upon completion of the course, you will have developed competency in

(1) advancing from factual, objective news reporting to opinion writing;
(2) selecting and evaluating public issues about which to write;
(3) settling upon an editorial viewpoint;
(4)using a variety of styles, techniques and organization methods to produce effective editorials, commentaries and editorial columns;
(5) relying on human sources, facts, statistics, historical references, proper context to validate arguments and increase the persuasiveness of your editorials;
(6) employing logic to make arguments and to recognize fallacies;
(7) using communication theory to write more persuasively; and
(8) understanding the importance of opinion pages and online forums as means to serve a public purpose that serves a diverse audience.

Required texts

Writing for Opinion and Impact, 2nd edition, by Conrad C. Fink (Used copies available for as little as $20 on Amazon and other online services; be sure to order the SECOND EDITION).

Elements of Style, Strunk and White

AP Stylebook

Other required reading

Opinion sections, columns and editorials as posted online by The New York Times and The Austin American-Statesman Sunday through Thursday of each week. Other media will be assigned instead of these in some weeks during the semester. Assignments for the week will be posted on Blackboard.

Course expectations

Come to every class and be on time. Read assigned materials. Submit assignments in the proper form and meet deadlines-at the beginning of class on due dates. Be prepared for courses exercises. Be an active participant in class discussions and team projects. When appropriate, express your viewpoint with conviction and passion, but be respectful of the views expressed by others in the class. Bring to the class's attention examples of strong and weak writing that reinforce our lectures and discussions.

Grades and assessment

Grades will be A, B, C, etc. with plusses and minuses.

In grading, we follow professional standards, including research and reporting, quotes, focus, grammar, spelling and punctuation. In addition, your grade on each assignment will reflect the effectiveness of your persuasive writing techniques. Part of the assessment will be based on the quality of your ideas, the use of an effective style and tone, how you argue the points and acknowledge the other side of the argument, and the logic and flow of your presentation.

Your grade will be based on the following:

65% - Opinion pieces and columns that you write during the semester (approximately one every two weeks). One of these assignments will be in the form of a broadcast-or-podcast style delivered in class.

20% - Your contribution to and the work produced by an editorial board comprised of you and several of your fellow students working as a team.

15% Class work and participation. You must arrive on time and attend every class. You are expected to speak up with well-thought-out comments and questions that make a contribution to in-class discussions. You are expected to do research in advance of lectures and guest speakers and to demonstrate your interest with pertinent questions and comments. Includes grade on short exams.


"Plagiarism," according to University policy, includes, but is not limited to, the appropriation, buying, receiving as a gift, or obtaining by any means another's work and the submission of it as one's own academic work offered for credit.

Copying or using the material of another author or student, published report or on-line source without clearly referencing that work is considered plagiarism and in violation of UT student rules of student conduct.

Be extremely cautious. Changing word order and sentence structure does not change the definition of plagiarism. If you cite someone else's work, say so. Give them credit. Otherwise, it's stealing.

Plagiarism will result in an automatic failing grade for this course and possible dismissal from the University of Texas at Austin.

Course Schedule

Aug. 26-Introductions; review of syllabus and course requirements.

Aug. 31-Overview of the tools of effective opinion pieces. Bring two developed ideas for commentaries or editorials for class discussion.

Sept. 2-Review some examples of good opinion writing as posted on Blackboard. Turn in a short (200-250 words) commentary or editorial based on one of your ideas as developed during class discussion. (This will be included in your class participation grade.)

Sept. 9-Read Fink: Introduction, Introduction to Part One and Chapter 1. Turn in exercise as assigned on Blackboard.

Sept. 14-Read Fink Chapter 2. Lecture: Developing ideas for opinion pieces. Editorial conference 1.

Sept. 16-Read Fink Chapter 3. Lecture: Combining topic and tone. Editorial conference 2.

Sept. 21-Editorial 1 due. Lecture: Persuasion techniques.

Sept. 23-Read Fink Introduction to Part Two and Chapter 4. Lecture: Crafting a commentary. Short exam on readings and lectures. Editorial conference 3.

Sept. 30-Guest speaker-The Importance of Opinion Writing. Read before class columns posted on Blackboard. Submit a detailed plan discussing the issues, approaches, and research needs of your Editorial panel's three-part editorial series. Include graphic and multimedia plans.

Oct. 5-Second opinion piece-a commentary--due. Lecture: Framing theory. Editorial conference 4.

Oct. 7-Read Fink Chapter 5. Lecture: Letters to the editor. Writing them, editing them.

Oct. 12-Letter to editor assignment due (opinion piece 3). Lecture: Political editorials and candidate endorsements. Editorial conference 5.

Oct. 14-Read Fink Chapters 6, 7, Intro to Part Four. Submit exercise posted on Blackboard. Lecture: Columns and columnists.

Oct. 19-Turn in opinion piece 3 (500 words editorial or commentary) on a controversial political issue. Lecture: Opinion writing online; blogs, tweets etc.

Oct. 21-Read Fink Intro to Part Five, Chapters 8, 9. Editorial conference. Lecture Using Humor to Persuade. Editorial conference 6.

Nov. 2-Editorial Board presentations. Editorial series due.

Nov. 4-Read Fink Chapters 10, 11. Guest speaker: Opinion pieces with impact. Short exam on readings since last exam.

Nov. 9-Read Fink Chapter 12. Lecture: Reviews of movies, restaurants etc.

Nov. 11-Editorial, piece 4 due. Read Fink Intro to Part 6, Chapter 13. Lecture: Story-telling techniques for persuasion pieces. Short exam on readings, lectures since last exam.

Nov. 16-Guest speaker: Churning out the columns.

Nov. 18-Opinion piece 5-a review or persuasive column-due. Lecture: Review of key persuasive elements, techniques.

Nov. 23-Present in class a Podcast or multimedia presentation based on one of your earlier opinion piece-or develop a new topic. Submit a topic for your final project-a major opinion piece (800 words) on a big-impact issue that demonstrates your persuasive writing abilities. Must have graphic or multimedia elements to complement the piece.

Nov. 25-Use class time as lab to prepare your final opinion piece.

Nov. 30-Turn in a detailed outline of your final opinion piece; include a list of sources, including human ones, you plan to use. Peer critiques on outline for final opinion piece.

Dec. 2-Turn in a draft of opinion piece; peer review of drafts. Review of course materials. Lecture: Pursuing opportunities in persuasive journalism fields.

Dec. 4-Final opinion piece and graphic/multimedia elements due.