Readings/Assignments

This page will be updated weekly to include assigned readings and links to online readings/resources. Please consider this blog to be your most up-to-date source for reading and homework assignments.

Week 12: Who the hell is Nigel Jaquiss and what does he know about investigative reporting?

Homework for Thursday, April 12:

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Homework for Tuesday, April 10: ReadThe 30-Year Secret” by Nigel Jaquiss. What is this story about? What is unusual about the story? About the author?

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Week 11: “Magic Weight-Loss Cookies!”/Investigative History

Homework for Thursday, April 5:

No #muckreads this week. (If you’ve already submitted one, it’ll count for next time.)

Read selections from the Winston-Salem Journal’s Against their Will series:

  • “Lifting the curtain on a shameful era” (Part one main story)
  • “Records unexpectedly available” (Part one sidebar)
  • “All aboard: newspapers jumped on sterilization bandwagon” (Part three sidebar)
  • “Wicked silence: state board targeted blacks but few cared” (Part four main story)

What is this series about? Why is it unusual?

Next, watch CNN’s two-part series on forced sterilizations in California:
CNN approaches this story in a very different way than the Winston-Salem Journal. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each one?

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Homework for Tuesday, April 3:

  • Complete first draft of story — due at next class.
  • Read Batsell’s nutritional fraud investigation and the resulting FDA inquiry. Copies handed out in class.

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Week 10: Mark Smith/Nellie Bly/Katherine Boo

Homework for Thursday, March 29:

  • Work on your stories. They’re due by 2 p.m. Tuesday, April 3.
  • Read Nellie Bly on life in a NYC lunatic asylum in 1887 (pp. 142-146) and Katherine Boo on life in group homes and therapeutic programs in Washington, D.C. in 1999. How would you compare the two reporters? What do you find surprising in their work? Be prepared to discuss.

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Week 9: Data as Journalism

Homework on front page of course blog.

Week 8: Watchdog Reporting.

Homework for Thursday, March 8:

  • Read Mark Dowie’s 1977 piece on cars with exploding gas tanks (pp.66-70); Jonathan Neumann & Bill Marimow’s 1977 story on tortured confessions (pp. 360-363); Eileen Welsome’s 1993 account of humans as atomic guinea pigs (pp. 76-79); and Houston station KHOU’s 2000 report on Firestone’s killer tires (pp. 79-82).What do the stories have in common? What changes did they bring about?

Homework for Tuesday, March 6:

  • Proposals for Story #2 due to Google Docs by Monday at 9 p.m. 

Week 7: Rachel Carson

Homework for Thursday, March 1:

  • Read DMN stories by Flournoy before class. Complete your multimedia element by 11:59 p.m. Thursday, March 1. 

Homework for Tuesday, Feb. 28:

  • Complete second draft of your story and upload to Google Docs by 2 p.m. Read selection from Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (Muckraking, pp. 252-254). On Tuesday, we will watch a documentary (57 mins) about Carson and Silent Spring. After watching the film, explain what surprises you most about Carson.

Week 6: “In war, truth is the first casualty.” —Aeschylus

Homework for Thursday, Feb. 23:

  • Read George W. Smalley on Antietam in 1862 (Muckraking, pp. 269-280); Edward R. Murrow on the German blitz of London in 1940 (pp. 281-283); Seymour Hersh in 1969 on the My Lai massacre in Vietnam (pp. 294-296); and Dana Priest and Anne Hull in 2007 on the  ill-treatment of Iraq War veterans.

    What differences do you see in the war coverage of Smalley and Murrow versus that of Hersh and Priest/Hull? What lesson do you find in the work of Priest and Hull? 

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"Don’t expect much of these students. They couldn’t get into UT or A&M." — Dr. Bobby K. Marks, Sam Houston State University president, April 15, 1997

Homework for Tuesday, Feb. 21:

  • Read Sam Houston State University rape stories. What strikes you about the stories? This was not a planned series. How did the students decide what to do next?

Week 5: Guest speaker Emily Ramshaw

Homework for Thursday, Feb. 16:

  • Emily Ramshaw, editor of The Texas Tribune, will visit our class Thursday to talk about her approach to investigative reporting and why it is so important. Emily has broken dozens of investigative stories over the past decade, including the abuse of troubled children who were forced to fight at state-funded youth homes and shoddy medical care at the Texas Youth Commission. Read both of these stories and come to class prepared to ask Emily questions about these stories, about her career, and about investigative reporting in general.

Homework for Tuesday, Feb. 14:

Week 4: Beat-based investigations

Homework for Thursday, Feb. 9:

Homework for Tuesday, Feb. 7:

  • Work on your story. Bring an electronic draft to the next class.

Week 3: Crowdsourcing, Transparency, and Investigative Reporting as a Process

Homework for Thursday, Feb. 2:

  • Have a story progress update ready to share with the class.
  • Our class has the opportunity to join The Texas Tribune and other journalism students for the 2012 Light of Day Project, a statewide investigative collaboration that will examine the finances of college athletics at Texas universities. For Thursday’s class, all students must read SMU j-student Steve Thompson’s 2010 story, “$93 Million and Counting”; Taylor Branch’s “The Shame of College Sports” from The Atlantic; and the Newsday article “NCAA Talks Realignment, Paying Athletes”. If you are interested in taking part in the Light of Day Project, please also read two writers’ ideas on how to reform the system — Joe Nocera in the New York Times Magazine, “Let’s Start Paying College Athletes,” and George Dohrmann in Sports Illustrated, “Pay For Play.”

Homework for Tuesday, Jan. 31:

Week 2: Finding stories and asking the right question.

Homework for Thursday, Jan. 26:

  • If you have not yet posted a summary of your story — including nut graph and sources — on Google docs, do so no later than 9 p.m. Wednesday. Just go to docs.google.com and log in. Then, in the left-hand rail, you’ll see a red “upload” icon right next to the red “create” box. Click upload, select files, select your summary and you’re in business.
  • If you posted a summary but have since junked the idea in whole or in part, post your new or revised story proposal on Google docs (same deadline).
  • FOR EACH OF YOU: Check the clips (Daily Campus, Dallas Morning News, etc.) to see what has previously been written about your subject and be prepared to discuss what you found on Thursday. Also be prepared to discuss the specific things you plan to do next on your story. If an interview, the name of the person and why you need to talk to him or her now. If a document, how you plan to get it.
  • In the Muckraking! book, read Charles Russell on convict leasing in Georgia in 1908 (pp. 343-346); William Shepherd on the Triangle fire in New York in 1911 (pp. 29-31); John Steinbeck on migrant families in California in 1936 (pp. 9-12); and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on the Centralia mine disaster in Illinois in 1947 (pp. 37-39). What do these stories have in common? How do the authors use detail and description to make their stories more powerful? Be prepared to discuss.

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Homework for Tuesday, Jan. 24:

  • Read Nate Blakeslee’s “An Isolated Incident" in Texas Monthly (Feb. 2009). What is the main point of the story? Blakeslee focuses on Tom Stiles — why? What does the story suggest about how SMU deals with controversy? Be prepared to discuss.
  • If you haven’t already, be prepared to discuss your story idea in class.

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Week 1: Aren’t all reporters investigative reporters?

Homework for Thursday, Jan. 19:

  • Come up with one or two story ideas and be prepared to discuss in class.
  • Read the Introduction to Muckraking and the Introduction to Homestead by William Serrin. Be prepared to discuss the following questions. Write an answer to one as a comment on the course blog by 9 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18:
  1. In Homestead, Serrin said that after several years as the labor reporter for the New York Times, he concluded he had done a poor job. Why?
  2. What is Serrin’s main point in his Introduction to Homestead?
  3. In the Introduction to Muckraking, William and Judith Serrin challenge one of the central standards of contemporary journalism—objectivity. They say all good reporters have agendas. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  4. What is the central point in their Introduction to Muckraking?

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