J461/561 News Editing Syllabus

Fall 2006, Tu-Th, 2-5 p.m.
John Russial

309A Allen Hall; 346-3750
Office hours: Tuesday, Thursday 11-12, or by appointment.

To send me E-mail Some browsers are not set up properly to send e-mail; if this link doesn't work, jrussial@uoregon.edu is the address


Strategic Copy Editing, Russial, 2004
The Newspaper Designer's Handbook (recommended, especially if you are interested in design and might eventually take Advanced News Editing), 5th ed., Tim Harrower, (McGraw-Hill, 2002).
    Many professional newspaper editors and designers use this book as a reference.

Strategic Copy Editing is the basic text for the course, and I expect that you will have read the appropriate chapters for the week. The text reflects my approach to editing instruction, which I have developed over three decades of working as a copy editor and teaching editing. There is a copy on reserve in the reading room in Allen Hall. I have other editing textbooks that you are welcome to borrow to look at. Different editing texts agree on basic principles, but they sometimes take different approaches and offer different examples.

We will use Quark Xpress, which is a standard in the newspaper industry, to design pages, but we also will do a little page dummying on paper. A ruler would be helpful. Believe it or not, many papers still use paper dummies. If there is time, we might also play around with Adobe InDesign, which is used by some newspapers.

We'll be using AP style in this course, as in other news-ed courses, so you should keep the Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual handy. It wastes time when you have to ask someone else if you can borrow it to look something up. Also, a current dictionary.

As in other journalism courses, it's important to keep up with the news. This means you should be reading at least the Emerald and The Register-Guard. Try to read a major metropolitan paper, such as The Oregonian or the New York Times, as well.

Course overview

The catalog description is: "Copy editing and headline writing for newspapers; emphasis on grammar and style. Problems in evaluation, display, make-up and processing of written and pictorial news matter under time pressure."

The course covers copy editing, headlines and design, pretty much in that order. In lectures, we'll discuss concepts, issues and rules and look at examples. In labs, you'll be editing wire and local copy, writing headlines, captions and other display elements and designing pages. We will spend several weeks doing page design. We'll also spend a little time examining newspapers on the Web and looking at some Web design and editing issues.

Time pressure will be a big part of the course, as it is at all newspapers. Editing is a balancing act. Editors must know how to manage their time -- to work quickly yet thoroughly. This is a worthwhile skill for any media professional to develop.

Class sessions

Class meets twice a week for two three-hour lecture/lab sessions. The lab portion (generally two hours) will be run by Dennis Anstine, a grad student in the literary nonfiction program who has extensive experience in nespapers. His office is in Room 210, Allen Hall, (phone 346- 4169) and his office hours for this class are M-W 2:30-3:30.

Attendance is expected. Your grade is based largely on lab work, and the labs will draw heavily on what we discuss in the lecture portion of class. Readings from the text also will help you improve your grade. Makeup work will be allowed in the case of unavoidable circumstances, such as illness, but I need to be told about this before the class is scheduled to meet, either in person, by phone message or E-mail. If you don't let me know before class, you might not be allowed to make up the work. I will accept other requests for makeup labs if you have a good reason, for example, a religious holiday or a job interview that cannot be rescheduled, but I need to be informed in advance.

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Grading will be based on criteria that newspapers use. In copy editing, that means work will be graded down for errors of spelling, punctuation, style, usage, etc. (See the grading guidelines.) Certain assignments will contain errors of fact, which you will be expected to catch using reference works available in the lab. Clarity, conciseness, legal issues and organization are additional considerations. The criteria for headlines and layout also reflect publishability. See the Grading Guidelines for more detail.

Grades will be based on the following formula:

   Lab exercises70%
   Outside assignments *20%
   Class participation, evaluation **  10%

* One ongoing outside assignment will be to find (and fix) errors in newspapers such as the Emerald and Register-Guard. Other papers, such as The Oregonian, can be used as well. I will explain this assignment in class. Another assignment, if we have the time, will have to do with web-page design.

** I'm looking for contributions to lecture discussions and evidence of improvement over the course of the term.


A Personal Note:

I've spent half a career as an editor, most of it as a copy chief. I like to edit, and I hope I can share some of the enthusiasm I have for editing. In any event, this course is worthwhile even if you've wanted to be a reporter since you were 6. If there were such a thing as a newspaper oracle, it might say: Edit thyself.

Academic dishonesty.

The university is serious about this, and so am I. In the lab portion of this course, as in a newsroom, colleagues often discuss their work. You are, however, expected to do your own work and be graded on your own work. For example, when we write headlines, you need to work on your own headline, not glance at the headline of the person next to you and copy it. Important passages in the Student Conduct Code are in the Schedule of Classes.

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Tentative schedule

Week of Sept. 25

Introduction, what editors do, style, mechanical mistakes
Russial, Chapters 1, 2

Week of Oct. 2

Accuracy and precision issues: Word editing, clarity, readability
Tone, sexism, stereotyping, fairness, libel
Russial, Chap. 3, 4, 6

Week of Oct. 9

Leads, organization, holes, inconsistencies
Cutting stories, combining stories, working with writers
Russial, Chap. 5, 7

Week of Oct. 16

Headlines, "rules," old and new
Russial, Chap. 8, 9

Week of Oct. 23

Writing good heads: News, features
Appropriateness, overlines
Russial, Chap. 10

Week of Oct. 30

Other display elements: captions, liftouts, summaries
Making display elements work together,
Russial, Chap. 11, 12

Week of Nov. 6

Thinking visually, simple inside pages, web design
Layout: principles, basic elements, history and technology
Russial, Chap. 13

Week of Nov. 13

Layout: Story design, larger inside pages
Use of photos, cropping, sizing
Harrower, Chap. 2,4

Week of Nov. 20

Layout, section fronts, story selection
Harrower, Chap. 3

No class 11/23 (Thanksgiving holiday)

Week of Nov. 27

More on section fronts; photo packages
Technology and the future of editing
Russial, Chap. 14, 15
Harrower, Chap. 4

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