J475 Syllabus



J475 The Storytelling of Election 2012

Vilas 2111 M/W 4-5:15

Prof. Sue Robinson

Vilas 5148

Office Hours: By Appointment

Cell: 608-287-6746 (No calls after 8pm)




n  To become more politically savvy

n  To hone reporting skills, particularly in-depth information research and production practices

n  To produce politically relevant stories for multiple platforms, from text to Twitter

n  To write and produce “political” stories beyond the horse-race frame, including creative nonfiction, alternative story forms such as multimedia, interpretive pieces and astute analyses



(Additional reading/viewing assignments will be given throughout the semester)

n  William H. Flanigan and Nancy H. Zingale,Political Behavior of the American Electorate, 12th ed.

n  J475    Reader on American Political Reporting

n  Also any and all political news in traditional media as well as: Politico.comRealClearPolitics.comFiveThirtyEight.com, The Monkey Cage, “Tech President”




This class will be organized around issues. In this class, you may choose some angle to the political election that has been a major issue during the campaign, such as health care or the economy. You should plan to follow that issue throughout the campaign. This class will meet regularly with Prof. James Baughman in Vilas 4017. ***Please note that this is a journalism class about political reporting. It is NOT a class for political debating in lecture. Please be respectful of each other’s viewpoints.




Due 9-10         Obama acceptance speech story (5%):

1)    Must live-blog and tweet the speech and/or follow-up coverage; 5 comments/tweets (Counted as an in-class)

2)    Must write a blog entry on post-speech reaction and analysis, 1-2 sources required (500-750 words)


Due 10-3         Issues Package (20%): Please produce one written piece of 1000-1500 words and one multimedia piece of 30s-1 minute (either video or SoundSlides) on some aspect of your beat/issue.


Due 10-22       (Off)Beat Package (15%): Offbeat story about candidate or supporters. Must include one 750-word text piece and one alternative story form.


Due 10-29       Data-Driven Alternative Story Form (5%): Think fund-raising, polls, vote numbers or some other kind of data source for an alternative story form such as Google Maps or a Storify.


Due 11-7         Election-Night Package (20%):

1)    Tweets with pictures: 10 tweets throughout the day (Counted as an In-Class); at least three pictures

2)    One short blog piece (250-500) or 30-second video on some aspect of the voting to be posted to PoliNewsUW.

3)    One deadline piece due: Either a 750-word text piece, multimedia (1-2 minutes) feature, or Google Map (with at least 5 locations) from campaign headquarters, polling places, etc.


** Can work in teams of 2-3 but everyone must produce these three items separately.


12-12   Final Project (20%): Choose one of the following topics and for each please write 1000-1500 words and produce one alternative story form/multimedia piece (30s-1.5 minutes) OR one 4-5 minute issues video and an accompanying 250-500-word piece.

1)    The Campaign 2012 Fund-raising story

2)    Analysis of a Candidate’s win or loss (with sources)

3)    Implications for your beat or a campaign issue


In-Class Assignments (out-of-class tweeting etc) 10%

1)    Obama Tweeting/live blog commenting

2)    Election Day Tweeting

3)    In-Class discussion and analysis of the coverage by a news outlet, an active political site, tweeter, blogger as a blog entry (500 words)

4)    Preparation and Execution of the Post-Election Live Blog (Dec. 10)



This would include in-class work and group work (including in-class tweeting, group critiquing and discussions), attendance (including tardiness), and general enthusiasm and professionalism. For example, I expect that you will NOT be on Facebook or email during class lectures or presentations. If I catch you on one of these during a presentation or lecture, this is the grade that I will dock. The first time I catch you, your (otherwise automatic) A, goes to a C. The second time I catch you, you get an F for this part of the class AND you get booted from the class session.


The Class Blog

We will be using a WordPress blog for this course, in collaboration with Prof. James Baughman’s class. You will each be writing THREE blog entries (see Assignments) for this blog throughout the semester. You will also find the professor contact information, updated links to all reading assignments and class news announcements here. You may receive extra credit for doing additional (SIGNIFICANT) blog entries (that is, entries that are at least 250 words and say something meaningful or analytical). Feel free to cross-publish your blog post onto your own blog. The URL for this is:




Server: afp://journalism.ad.wisc.edu/journalism

Robinson Website: mediatrope.wordpress.com

Technical Troubleshooting WIKI: http://202training.pbwiki.com

Learn@UW: J880 Site

Sue on Twitter: suerobinsonUW

Sue’s delicious: http://www.delicious.com/sjrobinson4


The SJMC Server (afp://journalism.ad.wisc.edu/journalism)

You will be asked to upload all of your files for this class to the SJMC server. Here is information on connecting to the server:

From a Mac: https://support.journalism.wisc.edu/kb/accessing-the-file-server-on-a-macintosh-computer/

From a Windows machine: https://support.journalism.wisc.edu/kb/accessing-the-file-server-on-a-windows-computer/


Grading scale and standards


An “A” represents outstanding or exceptional work that fulfills the assignment with excellence in content and execution. This means the piece could be published almost without editing. A “B” indicates competent work that nevertheless is not a full or well-executed completion of the assignment. This would be a piece that is all there from a story perspective and a reporting perspective, but perhaps has some structural issues. A “C” means that the work is within the parameters of the assignment but is significantly lacking in content and execution. In particular, those assignments that are missing significant sources or are unfocused will receive a C. A D or a failing grade of “F” means that assignments were not turned in or were extraordinarily poorly executed, or that the student has been academically dishonest (see below). A dual grade such as AB or BC may be used when the quality of an assignment falls between the definitions of two letter grades.


Rewrites: All of the projects except for the final assignment may be redone and resubmitted for a new grade, as long as they meet the minimum requirements of the assignment. I accept only one redo per week per student. If you elect not to redo, the original grade stands.


English: All students are expected to demonstrate a good command of English grammar and spelling, and writing quality will be a factor in grades, as will AP Style. As explained above, the quality and quantity of your participation in this semester also is a significant factor in your grade, as is your attendance (please see below). If you are an international student with English difficulty, I expect that you will find someone to proof your assignments or work actively with the university’s Writing Center.


Academic honesty and dishonesty: Plagiarism and other forms of cheating


The following statement is from the online University of Wisconsin-Madison policy on academic dishonesty:


Academic honesty requires that the course work (drafts, reports, examinations, papers) a student presents to an instructor honestly and accurately indicates the student’s own academic efforts. UWS 14 is the chapter of the University of Wisconsin System Administrative code that regulates academic misconduct. UW-Madison implements the rules defined in UWS 14 through our own “Student Academic Misconduct Campus Procedures.” UWS 14.03 defines academic misconduct as follows:


Academic misconduct is an act in which a student:


* seeks to claim credit for the work or efforts of another without authorization or citation;

* uses unauthorized materials or fabricated data in any academic exercise;

* forges or falsifies academic documents or records;

* intentionally impedes or damages the academic work of others;

* engages in conduct aimed at making false representation of a student’s academic performance;

* assists other students in any of these acts.


Examples include but are not limited to: cutting and pasting text from the web without quotation marks or proper citation; paraphrasing from the web without crediting the source; using notes or a programmable calculator in an exam when such use is not allowed; using another person’s ideas, words, or research and presenting it as one’s own by not properly crediting the originator; stealing examinations or course materials; changing or creating data in a lab experiment; altering a transcript; signing another person’s name to an attendance sheet; hiding a book knowing that another student needs it to prepare an assignment; collaboration that is contrary to the stated rules of the course, or tampering with a lab experiment or computer program of another student.


In this class, the penalty for intentional academic dishonesty is failure of the class—not just the assignment, but the entire course. Any incident may also seriously jeopardize your standing in this program.


Attendance and missed work


A significant amount of material will be covered every week. I realize that sometimes absences are unpredictable and unavoidable. That’s why you may be absent from two classes without penalty. For each additional unexcused absence, your participation grade will drop by half a letter grade (A goes down to AB etc.). Regarding the material covered during the class(es) you miss, you must get notes from another student, and you are responsible for knowing that material. If I start noticing a pattern of tardiness, I will give you a warning and then begin docking you.


Special needs


Any student who has a need for accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact me privately to discuss the specific situation as soon as possible.


Access to the instructor


I am available to see students by appointment, and you may reach me by phone or e-mail, listed above. Please consider me your editor for this class, and call me accordingly. Please, please do not be shy about calling me. However, do note that I will not answer after 8 at night. Best to reach me by email.







(Subject to change)


Week One

Wed., Sept 5: Introduction; Analyzing speeches (Jim and Sue start in separate classes, end up in 4017 at 4:30)

HW due 9-10: Watch, Tweet and Blog analyses of Obama’s acceptance speech; Read in the packet: Stevenson “Political Memo,” The Economist “Declinism resurgent,” Pfarrer “Reagan turns on Serb Hall crowd,” Chocano “Nader’s groovy night out,” Page “Why 90 million Americans won’t vote in November.”


Week Two

Mon., Sept. 10: Story Concepts, Leads, Nutgraphs and Quotes in Storytelling (Vilas 2111; Separate Classes)

HW due Sept. 12: Read: Flanigan and Zingale, chs. 1, 3-4, 7;

— Mashable’s 5 Essential Apps for Keeping up with politics: http://mashable.com/2012/02/23/mobile-apps-politics/



Wed., Sept. 12: Political Reporting 101 (Vilas 4017; Combined Class)

HW due 9-17: Read in the packet: Brisbane “Keeping them honest.”


Week Three

Mon., Sept. 17: Ethics in Political Reporting; Speaker: Dr. Stephen Ward, Director of the Ethics Center (Vilas 4017; Combined Class)

HW due Sept. 19: Read

n  AJR article on Swatsky: http://www.ajr.org/article.asp?id=676


Wed., Sept. 19:  Interviewing Tactics (Vilas 2111; Separate Classes)

HW due 9-24: Read:

n  Nieman’s A new age for truth: http://nieman.harvard.edu/reportsitem.aspx?id=102762

n  Huffington Post (Tech)’s Facebook, Google, Twitter get on Election 2012 Action: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/11/facebook-google-twitter-election-2012_n_1005208.html

n  Mashable’s 6 Ways the Media is Using Digital Tools to Cover the Election: http://mashable.com/2012/01/25/election-digital-media/

n  Pew’s What Facebook and Twitter Mean for News: http://stateofthemedia.org/2012/mobile-devices-and-news-consumption-some-good-signs-for-journalism/what-facebook-and-twitter-mean-for-news/

n  Constitution Daily’s How Social Media Made the Todd Akin Story Viral: http://blog.constitutioncenter.org/2012/08/akin-controversy-shows-how-social-media-made-the-story-viral/

n  YouTube’s YouTube launches 2012 elections hub: http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2012/08/23/youtube-launches-2012-elections-hub/

n  Gigaom’s Is Twitter good or bad for political journalism?: http://gigaom.com/2012/08/27/is-twitter-good-or-bad-for-political-journalism/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+OmMalik+%28GigaOM%3A+Tech%29

n  Find one awesome social-media example where a reporter covered one of the political events online or a fabulous interactive feature; be prepared to share

n  Find Twitter hashtags for the election; be prepared to share interesting ones

n  EXAMPLE BLOG: http://www.tnr.com/blog/plank/106730/ryan-most-dishonest-convention-speech-five-lies-gm-medicare-deficit-medicaid



Week Four

Mon. Sept. 24: Social Media Information (Vilas 2111; Combined Classes)

HW due 9-26:

n  Meyer’s Putting the Multi in Your Media for On-Line Galleries: http://www.sportsshooter.com/news/1603

n  Poynter’s How journalists can improve video stories with shot sequences: http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/digital-strategies/183861/how-journalists-can-improve-video-stories-with-shot-sequences/

n  Tomkins’s Aim for the Heart chapter

n  Digital Photography School’s 10 Ways to Take Stunning Portraits: http://digital-photography-school.com/10-ways-to-take-stunning-portraits

n  Find one awesome multimedia example from Election 2012 and be prepared to share


Wed., Sept. 26: Multimedia Journalism (Vilas 2111; Combined Classes)

HW due 10-3: Read in packet: Lazarus “Seniors would pay the price of Ryan’s plan to overhaul Medicare,” Lauter and Mascaro “A closer look at Paul Ryan’s federal budget plan.”


Week Five

Mon., Oct. 1: Peer Review of Project One (NEED DRAFT OF PROJECT ONE); Next Assignment (Vilas 2111; Separate Classes)


Wed., Oct. 3: Alternative Story Form I (Or, Offbeat Political Writing) (Vilas 4017; Combined Classes)



HW Due Oct. 8: Read:

n  Curating: http://www.lostremote.com/2011/05/20/crowdsourcing-a-live-video-interview-via-twitter/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+LostRemote+%28Lost+Remote%29

n  Google Circles: http://blogs.journalism.co.uk/editors/2011/07/13/how-journalists-can-use-google-circles/

n  Linking: http://www.buzzmachine.com/2011/06/23/studying-the-link-economy/#comment-452717

n  Covering the Riots: http://blogs.journalism.co.uk/editors/2011/08/09/london-riots-five-ways-journalists-used-online-tools/

n  A fundamental way that newspaper sites need to change (Holvolty): http://www.holovaty.com/writing/fundamental-change/

n  EXAMPLE: NYT DNC coverage, both video speech annotations and word mapping: http://www.nytimes.com/politics/

n  Alternative and additional readings may be assigned based on current events and new digital forms.


Week Six

Mon., Oct. 8:  Alternative Story Form II (Digital) in Political Reporting (Vilas 2111; Combined Classes)

Wed., Oct. 10: Enterprise, Issues, Profiles (Vilas 2111; Separate Classes)

Read in packet: Talese “Sorensen argues the case for a friend,” Barbaro and Parker “Image expert shapes Romney,” Weigel “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has built formidable political position,” Hallett and Torry “Campaign ads come fast, mean,” Bai “The Connecticut-Country-Club Crackup,” and Bai “Yes, Bob Kerrey wants to go back to Washington.”


Week Seven

Mon., Oct. 15: Database Reporting by Andy Hall of WiscWatch (Vilas 4017; Combined Classes)

HW due 10-17: Read in packet: Draper, “Can the Democrats catch up in the Super-PAC game?,” Nolan “Behind the cover story,” Barbaro and Wheaton, “Romney mines the Hamptons for campaign cash,” Gilbert “Obama leads among women,” and Gilbert “Poll shows Wisconsin’s in play.”


Wed., Oct. 17: Campaign Finance (including FOIA requests) by Bill Leuders of WiscWatch

HW due Oct. 22: Work on (OFF)Beat Project Two;

Week Eight

Mon., Oct. 22: Peer Review (Vilas 2111; Separate Classes)



Wed., Oct. 24: Reporting Polls; Speaker: Charles Franklin

Read: Flanigan and Zingale, chs. 2, 5-6, 8 and appendix.


Week Nine

Mon., Oct. 29: Prof. Baughman’s Pearls of Wisdom (Vilas 4017; Combined Classes)


Wed., Oct. 31: Election Coverage Planning (Vilas 2111; Combined Classes)

HW due 11/7: Read in packet: Tumulty “Once again, the electorate demanded a new start,” Kuhn “That huge turnout? Didn’t happen,” and Gilbert “Romney won Wisconsin by blowing Santorum away in the Milwaukee media market.”


Week Ten.

Mon., Nov. 5: Election Coverage Planning (Vilas 4017; Combined Classes)



Wed., Nov. 7:  Workshop Packages (Vilas 2111; Separate Classes)

Election Night Story Due at end of the Class


Week Eleven

Mon., Nov. 12: Speaker Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Vilas 4017; Combined Classes)


Wed., Nov. 14: Speaker Craig Gilbert Part II (Vilas 4017’ Combined Classes)


Week Twelve

Mon., Nov. 19: NO CLASS (To make up for election week)


Wed., Nov. 21: NO CLASS (Thanksgiving)


Week Thirteen

Mon., Nov. 26: “What’s Next” LIVE Blog (Vilas 2111; Combined Classes)


Wed., Nov. 28: Speaker: Ruth Conniff, political editor of the Progressive Magazine (Vilas 4017; Combined Classes)



Week Fourteen

Mon. Dec. 3: Speaker Jeff Mayers, president of WiscPolitics (Vilas 4017; Combined Classes)


Wed. Dec. 5: Speaker Jim Vandehei, executive editor and co-founder of Politico (Vilas 2111; Combined Classes)



Week Fifteen

Mon., Dec. 10: In-Class Media Coverage Analysis (Vilas 2111; Separate Classes)

Wed., Dec. 12: LAST CLASS: Final Thoughts; Evaluations (Vilas 4017; Combined Classes)

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