Winter 2018
Room: 3034 CB
Wednesday; 6-8:45 p.m.

Instructor:  Nancy Hanus
Office:  3037 CB
Office hours:  4-6 p.m. Wednesday; or by appointment.
Cell Phone:    313-318-7037

This course introduces the technical, social and ethical practice of online journalism. Students use Internet technology to generate story ideas, and to report, research and write articles for online publication. We will pay special attention to the growing world of Data Journalism. You will also post to a class blog at least twice a week.

Although the emphasis will be on journalism, several weeks will be spent learning the technology and software necessary to complete assignments in this course.

Course Mission

A journalist has one of the best jobs in the world. Every day is different. You become knowledgeable about a variety of subjects. You work with a wide range of people to get at the truth about various issues and situations. It can even be a great deal of fun.

Computers and the Internet have thrown a monkey wrench into “traditional” journalism. These technologies, however, also can lead to better journalism, told on various platforms and with tools beyond words.

My goal in this class is to provide you with an overview of the broad array of storytelling tools that technology and the Internet give you as a journalist, to teach you how to strategize and best take advantage of all of these tools. We will explore how to implement the online web structures, reporting and mixed media you’ll need to effectively follow through on your planning and make exceptional data-driven, multi-platform journalism.

This will include high-level considerations such as:

  • What types of publishing tools should be used: blogs, forums, databases, polls, etc.
  • How to break up and present the story packages you create.
  • How to decide what topical threads you create content in, and how often you implement what types of content.

It will also include lower-level considerations such as what media to use to portray a given part of a story (and text will sometimes be the best answer).

It will also include learning about the processes and collaboration that happen in newsrooms that make “news” more valuable than simple “information.” You will work together to build exceptional news packages.

By the end of this course, you’ll understand the strengths and limitations of not only types of media and technologies, but also of different online technologies, different tones, different ways of combining stories, and techniques for mining data for stories then using tools to display that data. And you’ll understand better the essential processes of making exceptional journalism, so you can include them wherever you do your work.

Course Materials

All materials for this class about online journalism can be found – wait for it —  online! You’ll need to access these materials regularly, so plan to have access through your own computer or notebook, or to a public computer.

One of the main sources for information will be on open educational resource called    Searchlights & Sunglasses, found here:

You will also be expected to read local and national online publications regularly. Here are the publications you should have on your reading list:





I will provide guided reading lists each week of articles I’d like you to read, but encourage you to read on your own as well, and to explore other publications near and far. I’d like you to come to class weekly with discussion points about approaches taken by online publications. We’ll spend the first 20 minutes or so of class period talking about online news, data stories and approaches.

You will have the opportunity to write about what you see and read online in weekly blog posts about the readings. This will give you the chance to share links and resources with your fellow classmates and with me.

Two other publications you should have access to:

  • “Webster’s New World Dictionary” (paperback) or a similar up-to-date dictionary; online dictionary is fine.
  • “Associated Press Stylebook & Libel Manual” (Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., no older than 2014 edition). You also can purchase an online subscription for $26.

Other required materials

You should have access to the following equipment by the second week of classes. If you will have a problem having access to these things, please let me know and we’ll discuss alternatives.

  • A reasonably fast computer that is updated with the latest browser and basic software. You should have programs to edit audio and photos, and preferably video as well. We’ll discuss options in class if you do not already have access – and we’ll allow some class time for this as well. There are several free or low-cost options online that I’ll share with you.
  • A digital camera that takes stills and video. One on your phone is sufficient.


  • Weekly readings from online text and websites.
  • A blog, updated twice weekly, starting third week of the semester.
  • Two data journalism projects, one due March 7, the other on April 11.
  • In-class and out-of-class assignments, and possible quizzes on readings.
  • One class project, near the end of the semester. This will be a class-time real-time project.
  • Two Michigan Journal articles (or online articles for other publications).


A – Terrific job, appropriate for publication with no editing. Facts are correct, reporting is solid and balanced, story is well-organized and you’ve included interesting detail. No spelling errors; no more than two punctuation errors.

B – Good story, although some editing is required. There may be deficiencies in organization and writing may not be clear and concise. No more than three punctuation errors and one spelling error.

C – Average. The story needs a rewrite. Organization is lacking; reporting is lean. Numerous spelling and punctuation troubles.

D – Marginal job. You’ve phoned the story in. Factual errors, shoddy reporting, careless writing. Needs total rewrite.

E – Inaccuracies. Too many spelling errors. Unfortunate grammar. Needs total overhaul. You’ve sent the editor screaming from the room.

Grades will be based on a total of 1,000 points, with 900 earning you an A, 800 a B, etc.:

  • Blogging   300 points (15 points per blog, graded 50% participation, 50% substance/style/delivery)
  • Data Journalism assignments 300 points (150 apiece)
  • Class assignments 100 points (these will be mostly participation points – if you do the assignment you get the points, so being in class helps)
  • Final group class project 100 points
  • Contributions to discussions     100 points
  • Attendance 100 points

What will hurt my grade?

Lateness: Missed deadlines are deadly in journalism. The two data projects must be turned in on time – and you’ll have weeks to work on them both in class and outside of it. If they are late, the grade will go down a full grade for each week.

Blogs, however, will have a bit more flexibility. You will be expected to blog twice a week starting the third week of class, but if you have a particularly busy week, and you push your blogs into the next week, you won’t be penalized as long as you catch up and get them done within the following week. Blogs are what will build your confidence and muscle memory for posting online, so doing it often is the key.

Factual errors: Like missed deadlines, factual errors are not acceptable in journalism. A factual error will result in total loss of points on any assignment. Check, recheck and then check again to make sure you have all your facts down cold.

Will there be any extra credit?

Yes. There will be several opportunities for extra credit during the semester – extra projects, additional blogs and additional publication of your work outside of class.

Also, because even the best journalists often benefit from a rewrite before their work is published, your first data project will be turned in, edited/graded, then given back for your fixes and improvements. As long as the first version is a good faith effort and second version is an improvement over the first, you’ll get the second grade.

Is there anything else I need to know?

Yes. The University of Michigan—Dearborn values academic honesty and integrity. Each student has a responsibility to understand, accept and comply with the university’s standards of academic conduct as set forth by the Code of Academic Conduct, as well as policies established by the schools and colleges. Cheating, collusion, misconduct, fabrication, and plagiarism are serious offenses. Plagiarism is a particularly egregious. You will be expelled from class if caught. Please keep this in mind if you feel it necessary to plagiarize: It’s not a matter of if you get caught, it’s a matter of when. Violations will not be tolerated and may result in penalties up to and including expulsion from the University.

Program goals:

 JASS 331 addresses the following program goals, as measured by the methods listed below the goal.

1st Program Goal:            Media Literacy

Measured by: Comprehension of assigned readings and synthesis of readings in assigned papers and in class discussions. Reading accounts for approximately 20 percent of the course grade.

2nd Program Goal:           Writing

Measured by: Quality of written assignments as evaluated in submitted papers and projects. Writing accounts for approximately 20 percent of the course grade.

3rd Program Goal:           Critical Thinking

Measured by: Evaluation of student’s ability to synthesize information and apply logic and reasoning to news stories. Critical thinking accounts for approximately 20 percent of the course grade.

4th Program Goal:            Research

Measured by: Use of appropriate research in supporting ideas and arguments in written papers, and in gathering information for the documentary project. Research accounts for approximately 20 percent of the course grade.

5th Program Goal:         Theory & Practice

Measured by: Ability to produce a non-fiction story. This accounts for approximately 20 percent of the course grade.

The Class: Week by Week

(This is subject to change based on availability of guest speakers and the opportunities presented by the news. )

Jan. 10:   Online journalism and research: An overview of the subject and the class. We’ll cover the syllabus, grades, expectations and opportunities for extra credit.

Jan: 17: Web writing and editing basics; linking, curation, embeds, images, video, social

  • Intro to wordpress and blogging
  • Dos and don’ts
  • Walkthrough of platform
  • Blogging expectations

Jan. 24: Real world online editing: Beth Valone, news editor, Crain’s Detroit Business

  • First blogs due this week
  • Social media as a reporting tool

Jan 31: Mining data and using it to tell stories: Basics of data journalism

  • Class assignment on data journalism
  • Review of great data sites (read in prep for class)
  • Math and coding
  • Begin proposals for data project No. 1

Feb. 7: Integrating graphics into your reporting

  • Intro to TimelineJS, HighCharts, Google maps, Datawrapper
  • Excel as your friend
  • Class assignment on visuals/graphics/mapping

Feb. 14: Rob Snell — Detroit News — research and using data to tell stories

Work on data projects in class

Feb. 21: Search engine optimization; curation; best practices for chunking, linking, presenting content online

  • Storify: Class assignment

Feb. 28 (break)

March 7: Hyperlocal journalism and running your own website

  • First data assignment due
  • Law and ethics

March 14: Alternative platforms: Online newsletters, chatbots, text pushes, podcasts and more

  • Class assignment: Create an online newsletter

March 21: Social media, Part 2

March 28: Rewrittten data assignment due

April 4: Content marketing — how you can use journalistic standards on sponsored content; Niche sites

April 11: Final data project due

  • Newsroom analytics
  • Analytics platforms

April 18: Class group project –working class session (don’t miss this one!)

April 25: Final project rewrite due; work session during exam time 6:30-9:30 p.m.

Disability Statement

The University will make reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Students need to register with Counseling & Disability Services (DS) every semester they are enrolled. DS is located in 2157 UC ( To be assured of having services when they are needed, students should register no later than the end of the add/drop deadline of each term. If you have a disability that necessitates an accommodation or adjustment to the academic requirements stated in this syllabus, you must register with DS as described above and notify your professor.


All students are encouraged to program 911 and UM-Dearborn’s University Police phone number (313) 593-5333 into personal cell phones. In case of emergency, first dial 911 and then if the situation allows call University Police.

The Emergency Alert Notification (EAN) system is the official process for notifying the campus community for emergency events. All students are strongly encouraged to register in the campus EAN, for communications during an emergency. The following link includes information on registering as well as safety and emergency procedures information:

If you hear a fire alarm, class will be immediately suspended, and you must evacuate the building by using the nearest exit. Please proceed outdoors to the assembly area and away from the building. Do not use elevators. It is highly recommended that you do not head to your vehicle or leave campus since it is necessary to account for all persons and to ensure that first responders can access the campus.

If the class is notified of a shelter-in-place requirement for a tornado warning or severe weather warning, your instructor will suspend class and shelter the class in the lowest level of this building away from windows and doors.

If notified of an active threat (shooter) you will Run (get out), Hide (find a safe place to stay) or Fight (with anything available). Your response will be dictated by the specific circumstances of the encounter.










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