School of journalism

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JOUR 523 Public Radio Reporting
Fall 2010

3 Units
Day/Time: Wednesday, 9-11:40 a.m.

Classroom: TBD

Class Number: TBD

Instructor: Judy Muller

Office Phone: 213-821-1549

Cell Phone: 310-570-3300


Office: ASC 202A

Office Hours: 10 am to noon, Mondays and Thursdays, and by appointment

JOUR 501 Newswriting: Print, Broadcast, Online

Course Overview:

This course will give students a solid foundation in public radio-style news and audio reporting for the web, with a focus on high-quality writing, reporting, interviewing and editing skills. Students will learn the basics of writing and producing radio newscasts and short radio packages using ambient sound and actualities. They will advance to writing and producing short feature packages, employing multimedia web elements.

Course Objective:

The purpose of this course is to prepare students to work in radio news, especially public radio, and for any news organization employing audio web elements. Students will develop good news judgment, high journalistic and ethical standards, and the necessary technical skills required for radio reporting, including how to cover a community, a sophisticated use of sound and artful style of writing for the listener’s ear. As other broadcast outlets have reduced their commitment to in-depth news, public and community radio have emerged as major sources of thoughtful coverage, provocative analysis and sound-rich storytelling. In this course, students will learn the basics of radio reporting – spot news and feature stories written for the ear, on-scene live reporting, sound gathering, audio editing and clear, concise writing.

Course Requirements:

Lab Time: All students will be required to put in one shift every other week reporting for Annenberg Radio News (ARN). They will be required to go out in the field to file a report to meet the deadline for that day. Students must have a minimum six hours available either Tuesday or Thursday between 8 am and 4 pm.
News Knowledge: Students must be familiar with international, national, and local news. Students will be given current events quizzes, and class discussions will often revolve around the “news of day.” To this end, students should read at least one newspaper (in print or online) thoroughly every day, and listen to National Public Radio news (KCRW-FM 89.9 or

KPCC-FM 89.3)
The textbook required for this course is Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production by Jonathan Kern (University of Chicago Press, 2008, 380 pp.).
Other materials will be provided in class, including selections from Writing News for TV and Radio by Mervin Block and Joe Durso, History of Public Broadcasting by editors Witherspoon and Kovitz, Writing News for Broadcast by Edward Bliss and John Patterson, Broadcast News by Mitchell Stevens, Creative Interviewing by Ken Metzler, Broadcast News: Writing, Reporting and Producing by Ted White.
Midterm Project: Students will produce a 2:00 minute feature story from their “beat” which demonstrates their ability to find and tell an original story, integrating ambient sound, compelling actualities, and concise writing that weaves all the elements together in a clear narrative form. Vocal delivery skills will also be evaluated.
Final Project: Students will produce a 3:00 minute SoundSlide (audio and photos) feature story from their “beat” which demonstrates their ability to find and tell an original story, integrating ambient sound, compelling actualities, and concise writing that weaves all the elements together in a clear narrative form. Vocal delivery skills will also be evaluated. The package should demonstrate significant improvement in writing, editing, and delivery from the beginning of the semester.
Class Participation: Each session will build on material covered in previous sessions. Just as reporters are expected to contribute to newsroom discussions, you will be asked to contribute to all classroom activities, including critiquing stories and learning from an exchange of ideas. Hence any unexcused absence or regular tardiness will affect this portion of your grade and bring down your overall grade. If you have an unavoidable conflict, please contact me via email or phone as far in advance as possible.
Assignments: We are journalists. Deadlines count. All assignments must be turned in ON THE DUE DATE. Sometimes your work will be handed back for revisions; assignments will be deemed complete only after students have turned in revised work.
Professional Dress Policy: Reporters are no different from representatives of other organizations. If they are badly or inappropriately dressed, it can affect the impression they make and the results they get. When going on interviews, dress in a manner that fits the situation and shows respect for the interviewee. Flip-flops and scruffy shirts are out. So are revealing necklines and bare midriffs. And never wear an advertisement during an interview or other on-camera assignment – not even a USC sweatshirt.

Equipment and Editing: The school has field recorder kits available for checkout from the equipment room. We will use Adobe Audition digital editing software which is loaded on certain computers in the Annenberg Digital Lab. Some assignments may need to be done in the Annenberg Radio News booth. The booth should only be used for designated assignments that require an audio board and for recording voice tracks. The booth cannot be used Tuesdays and Thursdays between 8 am and 4:30 pm because of the newscast production. All other assignment and all basic editing should be done on the computers in the Digital Lab. The booth is only accessible during the hours the Digital Lab is open, so plan your workload accordingly. Hours of the Annenberg Digital Lab:

Monday-Thursday:  10 am – 10 pm

Friday:  10 am – 6 pm

Grading Criteria: The following will count toward your grade:

  • 10% quizzes

  • 10% class participation and attentiveness*

  • 45% homework assignments (includes Annenberg Radio News shift)

  • 10% midterm project

  • 25% final project

*Journalists must be good listeners and must pay attention to details. To that end, you must have good listening skills in class and you must carefully read any written communication that is sent to you.

Your stories will be judged on a variety of factors: reporting, writing, editing and production skills. Each assignment will receive a letter grade and be judged as follows:

A – Must be accurate, clear and comprehensive; should be well-written, using broadcast language and require only minor copy editing; should use sound effectively and be well-produced.

B – Requires more than minor editing, and have some style and organizational problems. There can be ONE error of omission. There may also be minor flaws in the production.

C – Needs considerable editing, rewriting and reorganization; has many style flaws or omission errors. The production values are passable, but mediocre.

D – Requires excessive rewriting, reorganization, and re-editing or re-recording; has numerous flaws and errors.

F – Fails to meet the criteria of the assignment or was not handed in.

Plagiarism/School of Journalism Academic Integrity Policy:

All journalists must be committed to the truth. Presenting components of a story done by someone else without attribution is dishonest. Fabricating any part of a story is a lie. Any act of fabrication or plagiarism will result in a failing grade in this course and dismissal as a major from the School of Journalism: “Since its founding, the USC School of Journalism has maintained a commitment to the highest standards of ethical conduct and academic excellence. Any student found guilty of plagiarism, fabrication, cheating on examinations, or purchasing papers or other assignments will immediately receive a failing grade in the course and will be dismissed as a major from the School of Journalism. There are no exceptions to the school’s policy.”


The value of professional internships as part of the overall educational experience of our students has long been recognized by the School of Journalism.  Accordingly, while internships are not required for successful completion of this course, any student enrolled in this course who undertakes and completes an approved, non-paid internship during this semester shall earn academic extra credit herein of an amount equal to one percent of the total available semester points for this course.
To receive instructor approval, a student must request an internship letter from the Annenberg Career Development Office and bring it to the instructor to sign by the end of the third week of classes. The student must submit the signed letter to the media organization, along with the evaluation form provided by the Career Development Office.  The form should be filled out by the intern supervisor and returned to the instructor at the end of the semester. No credit will be given if an evaluation form is not turned in to the instructor by the last day of class.  
Note:  The internship must be unpaid and can only be applied to one journalism class.
Statement for Students with Disabilities:

Any student requesting academic accommodations based on a disability is required to register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP. Please be sure the letter is delivered to me as early in the semester as possible. DSP is located in STU 301. The phone number is 213 740-0776.


In addition to being ethical in developing and writing your stories, it is important that you consider diversity. When looking at your story and the words and the pictures, you should consider who is involved and how this story will impact others. Is your story fair and does it represent all stakeholders in a balanced manner? Are the sound bites you have selected representative of the community involved in the story? This class will help you learn how to write news stories that include diverse viewpoints. The class will discuss racial, religious, gender and sexual orientation issues in the context of current events.

About the Instructor:

Before coming to USC, Judy Muller was a correspondent for ABC Network News, reporting for such broadcasts as Nightline, World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, Good Morning America, and This Week. During her 15 years at ABC, she covered such stories as the Rodney King beating trial and the subsequent riots, the Presidential campaigns of Paul Tsongas and Bob Kerrey, the Los Angeles earthquake in 1994, the O.J. Simpson case, and numerous environmental stories throughout the West.

Prior to joining ABC News, Ms. Muller spent nine years as a correspondent for CBS News, where she was a contributor to CBS Sunday Morning and CBS Weekend News. Her primary duties, however, were in the Radio News Division, where she anchored a daily commentary, “First Line Report,” “Correspondent’s Notebook,” and was the summer anchor for “The Osgood File.” She also anchored hourly newscasts and covered the space shuttle program, both national political conventions in 1988 and the 1988 Bush Presidential Campaign.
Ms. Muller was previously an anchor for KHOW-AM in Denver and WHWH in Princeton, New Jersey. She began her career in journalism as a reporter for the Colonial News in Princeton, New Jersey. From 1970 to 1973, she was a high school English teacher in Metuchen, New Jersey.
A 1969 graduate of Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia, Ms. Muller has received numerous journalism honors, including an Emmy award for coverage of the O.J. Simpson case and for ABC News coverage of the Millennium, an Edward R. Murrow award for coverage of the impeachment of President Clinton, and was part of the Nightline team awarded a Columbia DuPont Award for the 1992 Los Angeles riots overage.
Ms. Muller is a regular commentator for the National Public Radio program, “Morning Edition.” She is a regular contributing correspondent to KCET Television and is the writer/anchor of the documentary “California At War.” She is currently the host of a weekly news program, “Town Hall Journal,” airing on KPCC radio. She is also the author of “Now This – Radio, Television and the Real World” (Putnam).




  • Review syllabus and discuss class requirements.

  • Overview of Public Radio News

    • What radio news does differently than other media.

    • How public radio news differs from commercial radio news.

    • Development and structure of the public radio system.

  • Recording/Sound Awareness

    • Demonstration of portable recording equipment – Billy Higgins.

    • Recording for ambient (or natural) sound.

  • Explanation of Annenberg Radio News program – Willa Seidenberg.

In Class Exercise:

  • Diagnostic writing exercise (timed).

Homework Assignment:

  • Listen to a national public radio newscast and a commercial radio newscast (you will hear these at the top of the hour on KPCC FM and KNX AM). Write a short essay evaluating the differences in formats, story selection, reporting style and vocal delivery.

  • Reading material to be handed out in class – “Using Microphones” pp.113-116 and “How to Mic a Field Interview” pp. 1-6 by Robin White.

  • Read Chapter 1 “Sound and Stories,” Chapter 2 “Fairness” and Chapter 3 “Writing for Broadcast” from Sound Reporting (class textbook), pp. 1-38.



  • Radio newscast essay.


  • How to develop a news story/discussion of reading assignment

    • What makes something “newsworthy” – the SO WHAT factor.

    • Neighborhood “beats” to be assigned.

    • What makes a good “ROS-er” (Reporter On Scene), listen to a couple of examples.

In Class Exercise:

  • Writing a pitch.

Homework Assignment:

  • Go to your “beat” and record a 30 second ROS-er, describing an event or scene, with ambient sound at the top, underneath your track, and under the sign-off. NO EDITING yet. You may want to post these on the SLARP or Neon Tommy website, so take a camera along.

  • Read Chapter 4 “Reporting” from Sound Reporting, pp. 39-72.

  • Read “Journeys in Sound” from Poynter Online (handout), pp.1-3.

  • Read “Better Writing Through Radio” by Nancy Updike ( handout), pp.1-4.




  • :30-second ROS-er from your neighborhood beat, with ambient sound.


  • Reporting techniques (discussion of the reading).

  • Interviewing techniques.

In Class Exercise:

  • Listen to ROSers – critique as a group.

  • 10:30 am – demonstration in Digital Lab by Billy Higgins of Digital Editing using Adobe Audition. (You must not miss this session!)

Homework Assignment:

  • Collect sound – ambient and actuality – for a :60 story from your “beat”.

  • TRACK AND EDIT using Adobe Audition.


  • Read Chapter 8 “Reading on the Air” from Sound Reporting, pp. 132-140.

  • Read “Learning to Listen” in Creative Interviewing (handout), pp.84-91. Read “Alex Blumberg’s Manifesto” on pitching and interviewing from (handout),

pp. 1-8.


  • :60 wrap using actuality and ambient sound.


  • Interviewing techniques: in the field, on the phone, preparation, good questions.

  • How to PITCH a good story…using examples from your neighborhood research.

In Class Exercise:

  • Listen to :60 wraps.

  • VOCAL DELIVERY Exercises.

Homework Assignment:

  • Read “Stress and Intonation” from the Broadcast Voice Handbook (handout),

pp. 123-148.

  • Read “Coverage” from Broadcast News by Mitchell Stephens (handout), pp.80-110.

  • Group #1 – FIRST SHIFT at ARN (with “reporter’s notebook” blog).

  • Group #2 – 1:30 feature from your beat.

  • Both groups – write one-paragraph story pitch to be presented to guest speaker next week (this will be your midterm feature spot).



  • Group #1 – ARN spots/scripts (with “reporter’s notebook” blog).

  • Group #2 – ARN Features (1:30).

  • One-paragraph story pitches.

In Class Exercise:

  • Critiquing ARN features from Group #2.

  • “Pitching” guest speaker Quinn O’Toole, NPR’s Western Region editor.

Homework Assignment:

  • Read Chapter 6 “Story Editing” from Sound Reporting, pp. 92-119.

  • Read handouts on conceiving and producing feature stories.
  • Group #1 – 1:30 feature from neighborhood “beat”.

  • Group #2 – ARN SHIFT.



  • Group #1 – 1:30 feature/script from neighborhood.

  • Group #2 – ARN spot/script (with blog).

  • Both groups should turn in scripts marked up for voice.


  • How to prepare web versions of your stories, using other elements.

In Class Exercise:

  • Listening to Group 1 features.

  • Listening to student work on ARN website.

Homework Assignment:

  • Go over radio vocabulary list (handout) and in the textbook and become familiar with the terms.

  • Be prepared for a quiz on the reading so far, as well as on current events.

  • Group #1 – ARN SHIFT.

  • Group #2 – 2:00 spot previously pitched and approved as midterm (to be posted on web with other elements, i.e. photos).



  • QUIZ on reading, vocabulary and current events.

  • Group #1 – ARN spot/script (blog).

  • Group #2 – 2:00 spot MIDTERM FEATURE.


  • Vocal delivery.

In Class Exercise:

  • Critique of Midterm spots.


Homework Assignment:

  • Group #1 – MIDTERM FEATURE 2:00 on pitched story.

  • Group #2 – ARN SHIFT and feature pitch (plus blog).

  • Read “A Legal Guide for the Radio Journalist” from Sound Reporting, pp. 259-271.

  • Read “NPR Code of Ethics and Practices” (one-page handout).

  • Read Chapter 13 “Production Ethics” from Sound Reporting, pp. 232-247.



  • Group #1 – MIDTERM FEATURE.

  • Group #2 – ARN Spot/script, feature pitch.


  • Ethics of reporting and production.

In Class Exercise:

  • Critique of Group #1 midterms.

Homework Assignment:

  • Group #1 – ARN shift and story pitch for feature.

  • Group #2 – Feature spot, based on approved pitch 2:30 to 3:00.



  • Group #1 – ARN story/ pitch for feature.

  • Group #2 – 2:30 to 3:00 feature.


  • Final projects – planning ahead.

In Class Exercise:

  • Critique of Group #2 features.

  • ONE ON ONE vocal training in the sound booth.

Homework Assignment:

  • Group #1 – Feature 2:30 to 3:00.

  • Group #2 – ARN shift.

  • Both groups – prepare 3 story pitches for final project, complete with web elements (Due in two weeks).



  • Group #1 – Feature 2:30 to 3:00.

  • Group #2 – ARN spot/pitch for feature.

OUT OF CLASS FIELD TRIP: to NPR West facility or KPCC.
Homework Assignment:

  • Read “Developing Sources” from Broadcast News: Writing, Reporting and Producing by Ted White (handout), pp.60-75.

  • Group #1 – ARN Spot/pitch for feature (with blog).

  • Group #2 – Feature 2:30 to 3:00.

  • Both groups – three story pitches for final project due next week.



  • Group #1 – ARN spot, pitch for next feature, PLUS 3 story pitches for final project.

  • Group #2 – Feature 2:30 to 3:00, 3 story pitches for final project.

In Class Exercise:

  • Final pitches, choosing one.

  • GOING LIVE exercises.

Homework Assignment:

  • Group #1 – Feature 2:30 to 3:00 and begin work on final project.

  • Group #2 – ARN Spot, begin work on final project.

  • Read Chapter 9 “Hosting” and Chapter 10 “Newscasting” in Sound Reporting,

pp. 141-193.



  • Group #1 – Feature 2:30 to 3:00.

  • Group #2 – ARN spot (with blog).


  • Anchoring and reading a newscast (from your reading).

In Class Exercise:

  • ONE ON ONE sessions in the booth for voice training.

Homework Assignment:

  • Group #1 – ARN spot.

  • Group #2 – Feature 2:30 to 3:00.

  • Both groups – continue to work on final projects.

  • Find a story on NPR you admire…be prepared to tell us why next week.



  • Group #1 – ARN/pitch for feature.

  • Group #2 – Feature.


  • Excellence in reporting….samples you have found. Listening to the work, listening to your oral critiques.

  • Updating class on your final projects.

Homework Assignment:

  • Group #1 – Feature.

  • Group #2 – ARN spot.

  • Write a one-page self-evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses in terms of writing, vocal delivery, production and your progress during this semester.



  • Group #1 – Feature.

  • Group #2 – ARN spot.

  • Both groups – Self-evaluation essay.


  • Job hunting techniques for radio. Listening to samples of audio CD audition tapes.

Homework Assignment:

  • Group #1 – ARN spot/Final project.

  • Group #2 – Final project.



  • Group #1 – Final project (3:00 spot with web elements) and ARN story.

  • Group #2 – Final project (3:00 spot with web elements).

In Class Exercise:

  • Critiquing final projects – You will be making revisions based on these critiques.

WEEK 16 – Finals Week

All students must turn in their revised final projects by the final exam date.

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