JO807: Advanced Journalism Research
Boston University
Department of Journalism
Spring 2001

Course Content 2000 Tom Johnson
Web Design 2000 Pete Darling

Tuesday 3-6 p.m.
Instructor: J. T. Johnson
Contact: or 617-353-5969(o) or 617-926-1313(h) or 415-305-9305(cell)
Research Assistant: Tama Miyake ( (617) 266-2365

Office Hours: Mon. & Wed. 2-5 p.m.; Tues. 12-2
                         The Digital Drop-in: Tues 6:30-7:30+ p.m. in 203E
                         And by appointment
Class websites:



“In a time of drastic change,
 it is the learners who inherit the future."

— Eric Hoffer
Longshoreman, philosopher


Doing journalism — high-quality journalism — involves five phases that I call the RRAW-P process : Research, Reporting, Analysis, Writing and Publishing (or Production).  This is a four-unit course designed to develop and reinforce your skills in the first three of these, especially as they pertain to the digital information environment.  By the end of the semester, however, you will be demonstrating your skills in the fourth aspect of the process, writing.

In this course you will be learning a lot about how to search for, retrieve, manage and analyze data.  Often that data will be in digital form but ink-on-paper data is still a major part of the research for most stories.   During the first week or two, we will be doing some practical — and I hope fun  — activities to get you up-to-speed in the basic skills and tools related to today’s communications environment.  I'm talking about sophisticated computer tools.  We also will learn about the basics of Analytic Journalism (aka computer-assisted reporting): online research and data management tools, some sophisticated aspects of spreadsheets and, possibly, get into the basics of databases and geographic information systems (GIS).   You will also be expected to know some elementary statistics.  As the semester progresses, you will be doing more basic research into public documents, research often related to your final project. 

While there will be regular in-class lectures, your success in this course depends on your investment in learning.  That is, you simply have to devote many hours outside of class to picking up the skills and research/reporting experience necessary to become a very good reporter.  There are no shortcuts.

You will need to have an active e-mail account. BU provides free accounts to students, but you may use any ISP (Internet Service Provider), just be sure to use the same e-mail address in all aspects of this course. 

NB: You may NOT use AOL as your ISP or Hotmail for your e-mail in this class.  AOL does strange things when you're online, like throwing you off in the middle of an upload.  Hotmail, and similar applications, cause problems and, frankly, applications like these are for armatures and you’re professionals.  Furthermore, because you’re professionals, I will strongly encourage you to register your own domain.  That way, you can have the same e-mail address for life.) 

While it is not necessary for you to have your own computer, it is strongly recommended that you do. Computers and knowledge management skills are no longer an option for journalists: just as a plumber needs a wrench, journalists need the digital equivalent.  (For a variety of reasons that I can discuss in class, I suggest you use a Windows PC unless you're devoted to film, broadcast or graphics.)  I also encourage you to sign-up for a high-speed ISP with DSL or a cable modem connection.  It will help you maintain your sanity in graduate school.

All of the course material -- readings, step-by-step instructions, links to resources, listservs, chat lists and assessments -- always will be posted online for instruction and review.  

Here s what I hope you will achieve by the end of the semester:


  • Develop a commitment to exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship
  • Develop ability to apply principles and generalizations already learned to new problems and situations
  • Develop ability to apply basic concepts of General Systems Theory to analyze a variety of phenomena
  • Develop ability to articulate the RRAW-P process of journalism, and consciously apply that process
  • Develop quantitative and qualitative analytic skills
  • Develop ability to articulate assumptions and query operational definitions
  • Develop ability to synthesize and integrate information and ideas
  • Develop skill in using materials, tools, and/or technology central to journalism in the Digital Age
  • Learn techniques and methods used to gain new knowledge in this subject
  • Develop an openness to and an eagerness to find new ideas and methods, i.e. intellectual aggressiveness
  • Cultivate an active commitment to honesty
  • Develop a sense of pride and confidence in the totally accurate quality of your work



The New York Times (daily) Click here for BU-specific instructions.  Then call 1-800-698-4637.

The Boston Globe (daily) $2.99 a week for 26 weeks, but call 1-888-MYGLOBE and ask for any newcomer or back-to-school specials.

Goldstein, Norm (editor).  The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law New York: The Associated Press (Paperback - July 2000)

Houston, Brant. Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide (Paper-2nd Edition)" (Order from Investigative Reporters and Editors:

Paul, Nora. Computer Assisted Research (4th Edition: Paper) [Order from Poynter Institute: )


Garrison, Bruce.  Computer-assisted reporting (Paper-2nd Edition) ISBN: 0-8058-3021-9 1998 / 504pp. / $34.95 Order Department Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 10 Industrial Avenue, Mahwah, NJ 07430-2262

Kessler, Lauren and Duncan McDonald.  When Words Collide : A Media Writer's Guide to Grammar and Style (Paperback) 5th edition Mountain View, CA: Wadsworth Pub Co; ISBN: 0534561330   

Reddick, Randy and Elliot King.  The Online Journalist Third Edition 0-15-506752-4, 2000, Paperback, 250 pp.



There will be perhaps as many as 20 tasks related to digital skills; some will be done in class, others on your own time.  The important thing is to be sure to give yourself enough time to do them and to do them all.  While some of these are listed in the calendar, others will be coming at various times, depending on the class and individuals' skill level.

SEMESTER PROJECT (Click for more details) [Top]

By the end of the semester, you will present to the class orally and deliver to me electronically — a major story ready for publication.  Your project objectives:

   A topic of state, national or international scope

   A topic that requires development of a traditional and digital research strategy and appropriately formatted bibliography (MLA or PSA style)

   A topic that requires some form of quantitative data analysis

  Your topic will be:

   Something of your choosing that meets the above objectives

   Any aspect of Congressional reapportionment resulting from the U.S. 2000 Census as it effects Massachusetts, or

   Any aspect related to contributions to the presidential campaign contributions or

The work product will include:

   A 15-minute presentation to the class describing your research strategy and experience, your methods of analysis and the nut graf of your story (Don't worry, I'll explain nut graf.)

   A 1,500-word story  — plus appropriate sidebar(s) and graphics

   A memo (500-1k words) on "What I've learned from this course"  (about yourself; about journalism; what worked for you; what would you do differently with similar assignments)

   Bibliography of all sources, i.e. interviews, archival and data sites.  The idea here is that you, or any colleague, will be able t to replicate your research, reporting and analysis.

Assignments and Grading [Top]

All assignments must be submitted via e-mail as attached files and must be handed in on deadline. If a story is not submitted by the deadline, it will be an automatic "F." If any individual's name is misspelled, the story receives an automatic "F."

The instructor may or may not critique late stories for you, depending on how much time he has. The format for the submissions must follow these exact instructions:

  • You must use the exact story slug (i.e. assignment name or number) as given to you by the instructor
  • This slug should be the name of your final file, the one you will send to me and give to me.
  • Some of the tasks ask you to submit a memo to me.  Use one of the templates in MS Word for this.  The subject line should be the slug/filename.
  • You must submit the story in the Rich Text Format (RTF). If you don't know how to use Word to get that format, click here to reach for the tutorial.
  • The story must be sent to me as an "attachment" to an e-mail message.
  • The subject line for that e-mail message must be:
    JO807#TK-??? ( Your THREE initials replace the question marks.  "TK," in journalese means "To Come." Yes, ask me to explain why.] Example:


If you use some other subject line, the assignment will get lost in the 100-150 e-mail messages I receive each day and you will not get a grade.

The easiest way to implement the story formatting is to download a copy of StoryFormatMasterTemplate.DOC under the "Course Documents" button on the web site. But if you don't want to do that, the page format should be the following:

Your assignments should clearly indicate the sources for all your work, either paragraph-by-paragraph by using the endnote function or with the "comment" function. I suggest learning how to use the footnote/endnote function of any word processor.

Here is the style you should use to format your assignments:

  • Set both left and right margins at 1.5 inches
  • Use New Courier at 10pt. bold (or similar)
  • The body text should be 1.25 inches from the top of the page; bottom margins should be 1.25 inches from the bottom.
  • Use a header to show the slug, author and page number.
  • Submit the file in Rich Text Format.
  • Avoid fancy type or inserting graphics unless they are necessary to make you point.

Here is the link to a document that explains how to format your work: JO807StoryFormatMasterTemplate

NB: Be sure to keep multiple copies of your story, electronic and an I-o-P (ink-on-paper) version. If the story is lost, I'm not responsible. I'll ask you to send me another copy and it's up to you to be able to do so.

The instructor will comment on and grade the stories either electronically or on hard copies.  Those critiques will use MS Word's "comment" feature, so learn how to use, and read and maybe print, those comments.

In addition to the grading standards attached, all stories are evaluated for precision in the following areas:

  •  Adequacy of research
  • Accuracy
  • Clear writing
  • Overall organization
  • AP style
  • Punctuation
  • Grammar
  • Spelling
  • News judgment
  • Lead or nut graf writing

Grading Policy [Top]

To grade someone's writing is a difficult and inexact task. This is how I will try to do it:

A -- The news story is exceptionally well written and free of errors. The lead is clear, concise and interesting. The story reflects an impressive amount of insightful research, reporting and analysis by the writer. The story is well organized and contains effective transitions, quotations, descriptions and anecdotes. Because of the story's obvious merit, any newspaper or magazine would be eager to publish it.

B -- Any newspaper could publish the news story after minimal editing. The story contains only a few minor errors of style. The lead clearly summarizes the story, and the following paragraphs present all the information necessary for a comprehensive news story. The information is presented in a cohesive, well-organized manner. The story is not as detailed, descriptive or interesting as an "A" story.

C -- The news story is superficial or could be published only after heavy editing. The lead may be too wordy and fail to clearly emphasized the latest, most interesting or most important aspects of the story. The story tends to be disorganized and contains many minor errors. A few sentences or paragraphs may have to be rewritten because they are repetitious, awkward or confusing.

D -- The news story contains all the necessary facts, but those facts are presented so ineffectively that they would have to be rewritten before the story could be published. The story also may contain an unacceptable number of stylistic, spelling or grammatical errors.

F -- The news story could not be published by a newspaper and is so incomplete, confusing or erroneous that the facts in the story could not be rewritten and published.

As to the question, "Should grades represent quality and a level of accomplishment? Or effort? Or progress?"

"A. Grades are assumed to reflect the instructor's judgment of the quality of the student's performance. Grades should not merely be awarded for effort, attendance, native ability, etc., notwithstanding the fact that all of these may affect performance and become part of the evaluation.

"B. Students may not be guaranteed 'at least a "C" or "B," etc. in advance or by a contract related solely to the quantity of assignment completed, as evaluation is a post-performance function rather than a pre-performance contract."

Class attendance is mandatory. Makeup work may be done only with permission of the instructor and must be completed within one week after the student's return to class. Copies of students' stories may be distributed in class or posted to the class web site for discussion, but grades usually will not be identified.

The grades will be posted in the eGroups site as a spreadsheet. 

Sum of the various task assignments:

40 percent

Class and online participation

10 percent

Final Project

50 percent

Regarding plagiarism:

Plagiarism is the act of representing someone else's creative and/or academic work as your own, in full or in part. It can be an act of commission, in which one intentionally appropriates the words, pictures or ideas of another, or it can be an act of omission, in which one fails to acknowledge/document/give credit to the source, creator and/or the copyright owner of those works, pictures or ideas. Any fabrication of materials, quotes or sources, other than that created in a work of fiction, is also plagiarism. Plagiarism is the most serious academic offense that you can commit and can result in probation, suspension or expulsion.

"Must-Have" Files

Here is a suite of files that everyone needs to have loaded on their hard drive and desktop. Always install the latest version and, usually, go for the upgraded versions, especially if they are free. Go get 'em,

Quick Reference Guides [Top]

These 6 page, tri-fold, full-color guides provide step-by-step instructions, short cuts and tips on how to use many popular software programs including Word, Excel, Access and PowerPoint. Each guide is $4, and you can order them online. If you do place an order, please indicate that Margie Theobald is your sales rep.

Copyright 2000 J. T. Johnson