West Side Local– ENG 399 – Fall 2011


Jody Biehl– e-mail:


Thursday 3-5:40 p.m.

NSC 215

Office Hours:

Monday 1-2 p.m.

Please make an appointment. Don’t just stop by. Appointments at other times available upon e-mail request

Class Website:

Welcome to the West Side Local. This class is an experiment in hyper local media, civic journalism and online reporting. It is also a study of how journalism is changing to match current technology.

In this class, we will study trends in current media and look at multimedia reporting produced by major news outlets. Students will hone their ability as editors and critical thinkers as they analyze projects and decide what aspects attract and repel readers and viewers.

Each student will do a semester-long project on a group, individual, organization or campaign on Buffalo’s West Side. Each component of the project will be a springboard to discuss facets of multimedia journalism and the ways stories can be told via different mediums.

Students will have weekly readings on journalism and will write weekly responses to the readings on the class blog.

At the end of the semester, the projects will be put on a class website and together will offer a portrait of The West Side, Buffalo’s most diverse neighborhood and one of the most under-reported sections of the city.

Class structure:

Every class will include a lecture, a discussion of the readings and a critique of current work by professional and college journalists

Materials Required:

Camera/audio recorder – details to be discussed in class

There is no textbook for this course – ALL weekly readings will be posted on UBLearns in PDF format or linked to via the class blog. You are responsible for finding and reading the assignments and doing the accompanying homework.


Coursework will consist of: (1) responses to course readings, (2) assignments and (3) class attendance and participation



(1)   Do not arrive late, miss class, etc. If you must miss class, all work will be due as scheduled unless you make other arrangements with us ahead of time.

(2)   All assignments are due at the beginning of class. All online assignments and blog entries should be available online at the beginning of class. If major assignments are late, I will deduct five points per day they are late.

(3)   No plagiarism. Students copying the work of others will be given an F for the assignment and possibly for the class depending on the severity of the offense.

(4)   All written assignments (except blog entries) must be typed and double-spaced or I will not accept them. They must be handed in to me, placed in my box in Clemens 306 by the start of class or – by arrangement – emailed to me.


  1. 20% Blog (homework)
  2. 25% Written assignment 1
  3. 20% Written assignment 2/video/audio slideshow
  4. 25% Photos and slideshow
  5. 10% attendance, participation

Production Assignments:

  • (1) Blogging with WordPress – WordPress blog setup, weekly blog updates & responses to readings
  • (2)  Written article 1 (approximately 3.5 double-spaced pages -1,000-1,500 words)
  • (3)  Written article 2 (approximately 2-3 doulbe-spaced pages 500-800 words)/video (1-3 minutes)
  • (4) Slideshow (12 photos)
  • (7) Final package (you can make slight changes to each piece to make the whole project more cohesive)


Sept. 1

— What is this class about? What’s a multimedia project? History of news. How journalism today is changing.

–Syllabus walkthrough, gear intro, & informal class survey

–Assignment: Find a story about Buffalo or preferably the West Side in a newspaper, on a neighborhood blog, on an organization’s website etc. and bring it in. The story can be about a project, a neighborhood, a problem, an individual, whatever. Be ready to talk about it in class.

–Reading Assignment (1): Read Jan Schaffer’s 2004 speech on citizen journalism at:

Reading Assignment (2): Read NYT story on the West Side at:

–Reading Assignment (3): Buffalo News story on the West Side at:

Be ready to discuss them in class

Sept. 8

— Short Buffalo Film TBA

–Discuss readings and organizations on West Side and elaborate on projects.

–  The main written piece will:  provide an overview of your topic. It will: have a compelling lead, a strong nut graph, include relevant history/background, provide statistics, and include quotes from at least four sources.

–        The sidebar or video piece will introduce a new element of the main piece. It could introduce a character (profile), explain a process, highlight a program within the larger framework etc.

–        The slideshow will: focus on a person or a process

–Lecture on why story matters

–Lecture on the basics of reporting – hard news vs features. Basic make-up of a story. How to conduct an interview and select the best quotes.

–Lab – WordPress: Intro to using WordPress Blogging Software, Basic Templates, & Settings

–Production Assignment: Setup your personal blog at

–Read: (1) Dan Gillmor’s “We The Media” Introduction & Chapter 1 (posted on UB Learns)

–Write: (1): Post a short response to the Gillmor article to your blog.

–Write: (2) Comment on the following websites. What can we learn from each?,

Sept. 15–Trip to the West Side.

Meeting point to be announced in class


–Read: Steve Buttry Blog entry on “Finding and developing story ideas”

–Read/watch: Picking the Right Media for a Story

–Write: Post short response to today’s reading assignments on your blog

–Think: Think about your project. Be ready with three story topics to discuss with the class. What is the main idea of the story? How will you go about reporting and writing about your topic? You will need a topic for both written pieces or video and clear photo ideas.

Sept. 22

Discuss project ideas

— Lecture and discussion about feature writing.

—  Critique feature stories

–Read: (1) Melvin Mencher’s News Reporting and Writing, Chapter 7 (The Writer’s Art) (posted on UB Learns)

–Read: (2)

–Write: Write a possible lead and nut graph for your main piece and an idea for your second. Also include what questions you hope each piece will answer and a list of possible sources. Email this to me by 3 p.m. Sept. 29.

Sept. 29

No class Rosh Hashana

— BLOG REVIEW – Five Weeks – All assignments must be posted by Oct. 6.

Oct. 6

Discuss leads and nut graphs and general story progress

Intro to photo – learn the language of the image. How do photos “talk” to us differently than words. How can we use photos to best convey scenes?

–Read: Kenneth Kobre’s “Photojournalism: The Professional’s Approach” Chapter 1

–Write: Assignment 1 draft due Oct. 13

–Think: What will your slideshow look like? What sort of story do you want to tell?

Oct. 13

–Digital Photography – what works and what doesn’t. What sorts of photos do you need for your pieces?

–Look at how major news sites are using slideshows to enhance coverage

–Discuss slideshow ideas

–Introduction to Soundslides

DUE: Assignment 1 draft (three to five typed double-spaced pages)

–Read (1) James Foust’s “Online Journalism” Chapter 10 (Gathering & Editing Media)


–View: Find one entry that interests you and write about it. Why did you find it interesting? What did you learn? How does it apply to the class?

–Write: Post short response to today’s reading assignments on your blog

— Do: Post 5-10 photos on your blog that pertain to your topic. Give your photo sequence a title.

Examples of ideas that might work:  a day in the life of a person relevant to your topic, a community event, rebuilding a house, a protest, the journey to campus. The sequence must include one scene setting shot (wide angle) and at least one character shot (close-up).  Make every photo tell part of the story.

— Come to class prepared to talk about your slideshow topic

Oct. 20

Discuss photos posted on blogs. How well to they tell the story you are trying to tell?

Discuss basic photo editing techniques – cropping, color enhancement, sizing etc.

–Read: Charlie Beckett “SuperMedia Saving Journalism so it can Save the World” Chapter 2 (“Is it a Bird? Is it a Plane? No! It’s SuperMedia!”

–Write: Post short response to today’s reading assignment on your blog

— Rewrite: Rework Assignment 1 following my notes

— Rework: Photos following class critiques

Oct. 27

Discuss photos for slideshows

Soundslides intro

Intro to video

Due: Rewrites

Read: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production

Work: post 10-12 photos for slideshow on blog

Nov. 3 Class meets in the lab – location TBA

Due: Photos for slideshow

Discuss photos

Soundslides  — captions tutorial

Audacity tutorial

Optional readings:

If you are having trouble with Soundslides, read: Soundslides Tutorial

If you are having trouble with Audacity, read: Audacity Tutorial

Work: Slideshow with captions due Nov. 10


BLOG REVIEW – 10 Weeks – All assignments must be posted by Nov. 10

Nov. 10

Intro to video

–Intro to video. Thinking about stories, characters, movement. Why do light and sound matter? What is the 180 degree rule? How do I use a microphone? What is b-roll and why does it matter?

What is the future of journalism?

Discuss ideas for second written piece, audio slideshow or video

–DUE: Soundslides project

Read: Charles Layton’s The Video Explosion

Do: Critique this Seattle Times multimedia project

Optional video help which you do not have to blog about: Herbert Zettl’s “Video Basics 3” Chapter 5 (posted on UB Learns)

Nov. 17 (Class meets in a lab, location TBA)

Troubleshooting in the lab.

–Read: Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody” Chapter 3 (Everyone is a Media Outlet)

–Critique: Jeff Jarvis’ blog. Find a post and critique what he says at

–Write: Post a short response to the reading on your blog


— Discussion of social media and how it is affecting journalism

— Discuss final projects – video/audio slideshow or written sidebar

–Read (1): Bret Schulte’s The Distribution Revolution

–Read (2): Jay Rosen’s advice for journalists:


Write: Post a short response to the reading assignments on your blog.

Write: A short post on what you have learned this semester

Dec. 8

Final class

Screenings/viewing of final projects


Final projects due by the start of class.

–BLOG REVIEW: Fifteen Weeks