12 Mar

Answering your midterm questions

You had a ton of good questions about our midterm scenario! (Remember this is all fictional and should not be used in your personal portfolio.) I think I got all of your questions — if you don’t see your specific one posted here, I answered something similar. Please ask me if your question didn’t get answered or if you want to ask about something new. Good luck!

Can I get an A?
Absolutely! You can get an A if you write a clear, organized, accurate story or press release that meets the requirements for the piece you choose to write.

What is the essence of the midterm?
This is what we were focused on in lecture today — the city of Milwaukee has filed a lawsuit against gun dealers and manufacturers. What does the city say is the problem, and what does it want the court to do? Figure that out and you’ve got the essence of the midterm.

What’s the most common mistake students make on the midterm?
I asked your TAs about this one and here’s what I heard: Be careful about source chunking. Be careful when using stats from the lawsuit. Remember where this is happening (gun dealers outside Milwaukee). Understand the role of dealers vs. manufacturers. Know the stage at which this story is being reported (the lawsuit has just been filed — what does that mean about the facts in the case?). Think about how you can address the other side’s arguments in the press release without giving it too much weight or attention.

What is the best angle to take? What perspective are we writing about and what should we be focused on?
If you’re working on the informative story, you’re giving an account of the lawsuit and the different arguments for and against it. If you’re doing the persuasive piece, you’re writing from the perspective of your client — the mayor of Milwaukee. Think about what you need to include to represent those two different kinds of stories.

What is your best advice for getting an A on the midterm/what can I do to improve my chances of getting an A?

Look back at your TA’s feedback to get a sense for what you need to work on, ask lots of questions about the material, come to lab 1 with some idea of what you’re going to write and pay careful attention to all of the facts of the case and arguments.

What is your biggest tip throughout this whole midterm process?
See above — go back to look at your TA’s feedback to see where you should pay special attention. Be careful with facts and check everything carefully. Avoid legalese and ask questions!

Will the midterm be graded like graded assignments/how will it be graded?
Yes, your TAs will be grading it the same way that your other assignments have been graded. You can check out the rubric for an informative story or press release to see what specifically they’re looking for.

What’s the biggest difference between this and other pieces we’ve written in lab? Why is it considered a midterm when it’s a story like what we’ve been doing in lab?
Aside from the facts — a lawsuit in Milwaukee rather than a train derailment and chemical spill in Stoughton — you should approach this assignment the same way you have with everything else this semester. This is a chance for you to show us everything that you’ve learned about pulling together information and writing it clearly.

When do you have to decide which one you want to do?
You’ll want to pick the informative or persuasive piece by the time you get to Lab 1 — that way you can think through how to get started. But you’re free to change it at any point — if you start one and feel like it’s not working, you have the option to switch. Just don’t get to a point where you’ll run out of time!

How much is the midterm weighted/how heavily will it be graded?
The midterm is worth 5 percent of your total grade for J202.

Are fact errors still only worth -10 points or is it a more severe consequence?
Yes, fact errors will still be -10 points — be careful with the facts, because fact errors can be costly!

Is there anything besides the story/press release?
You’ll have to decide whether to do either the informative story or press release. You’ll also work to complete an accuracy checklist to help guard against fact errors.

I am confused about what is due with the accuracy checklist.
Stay tuned — your TA will explain what you need to do, and you’ll work as a lab to put it together.

What has been the grade distribution in the past/what should I expect my grade to look like?
I looked back at the grades from last spring — the average was 81, and the highest grade was a 95 (see, you can get an A!) More specifically, a quarter of students got a grade between 85 and 90, and another third of students received a grade between 80 and 85.

How much time will we have for it in total?

You have a full week to work on it — your clock started at the end of Lab 2 last week, when you received the assignment, and you have until the end of Lab 2 this week to get it done.

Are we allowed to write it outside of class?
Absolutely! You’re free to work on this outside of class as much as you want or need.

How much time should I allot outside of lab to do well on the midterm?
That’s up to you — you can spend as much time on outside of class as you want to for writing the midterm.

Is it possible to finish the midterm in one lab and then spend the next lab editing it?
Yes, you could do most of the writing in the first lab and spend the second lab refining your piece.

When is it due?
At the end of Lab 2 this week — so, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday depending on when your lab meets.

We will have time to work on it in class, right?
Yes! This is what you’ll be doing in lab this week. You’ll spend part of the first lab on a media analysis and the accuracy checklist, and then the second half writing. Take advantage of that time in lab to ask your TA questions about how to approach the assignment.

What should we have done before Lab 1? What is the best way to approach the midterm to best use our time in lab? How can we prepare?
You should be sure to read the whole packet a couple of times and have an idea of which assignment you want to do — the news story or the press release. You’ll want to at least start an outline and sketch out a lead by the time you get to Lab 1.

How much of the midterm should we complete by Lab 2?
It’s a good idea to have your story or press release mostly written by the time you get to Lab 2 so you can spend that time in the second lab refining it.

What are some benefits of each — the press release and the news story?
Always consider your audience — who are you trying to reach and what do you need them to know and do?

I’m just not sure how to organize it.
Whether you’re writing the press release or the news story, stick to that inverted pyramid style we’ve been working on. Start with what’s most important and and newsworthy — if you were telling your roommate about the lawsuit, what would you say is happening? Once you lay out what the lawsuit is about, follow it up with the context for why and, in the case of the news story, what the other side has to say about it.

What is the best way to sort out all of the information and decide what is the most important? How do I know what information to pick and cull to use for the story?
Go back to the communication values and the 5Ws — take a few minutes to think about and answer those. What’s most important here — timeliness? Proximity? Impact? And how would you fill in the blanks on the who, what, when, where and why? Just working through those will help you get some guidance on where to start. Also, check the examples we’ve posted to see how other writers have approached similar stories.

How much of the technical legal terms should be included? How do we simplify certain concepts?
If you don’t understand a term, many people in your audience probably won’t either. As much as possible, you want to avoid using those technical legal terms and do the translation for your audience. Look at the example stories and press releases for ways that reporters and PR reps can do that. Also, find a reputable source to help explain some of the legal terms — the U.S. Courts have a good one that would be a smart place to start.

How much detail do you expect on the midterm story given the level of detail in the notes?
There is way more here than you would ever want to use. Some of it just wouldn’t be relevant, or it would take away from the main point you want to make about why the city filed this lawsuit. It’s up to you to figure out what’s most important to include — go back to some of the earlier assignments (the poor story you rewrote, the follow-up story, Miley’s terrible press release) and think about how you ranked and prioritized information.

How should I reference or cite the lawsuit information if necessary?
Take a look at how the reporters who covered similar lawsuits used the information from the actual lawsuit. Note that you really wouldn’t want to quote from it — but you can paraphrase what it says and cite statistics. For example: In 2013, firearms were used to commit 69 percent of all homicides nationally, according to the lawsuit.

Does anything from taken from the complaint part need to be attributed to Brian Gaynes?
Like I said above, you’re not going to quote from the lawsuit, so he’s a minor character here that doesn’t need to be named. Who would be some better sources to represent the city’s point of view on this story?

Are quotes required for both types of stories?
Yes, but you’d use them in different ways. In the informative story, they can help the different sides explain their perspectives. In the press release, they can help the mayor sell her side of the story to the media covering it.

Would you recommend the press release or news story for the midterm?
That really depends on you and what you’re more comfortable writing. We’ve done a lot more informative writing so far, so you’ve had more practice at that. But maybe you’ve seen in the last couple of weeks that you like thinking about a strategy and how you can get that across through a piece of writing. Whatever you choose, pick the one you think gives you the opportunity to show us your best work.

How should I distinguish which sources are most relevant for the press release?
Think about who you’re representing in the press release and what information will most effectively bolster your client’s case.

So many quotes! How many quotes should we have? How much of the information given by people should we include? What should the proportion of facts to quotes should there be?
Like I said, you’re not going to use everything that’s in the packet for this straightforward, informative news story or press release. (In the case of the press release, you’re going to use even less because you’re representing one point of view.) There isn’t an exact formula for the ratio of facts to quotes, but you want to use them to help support your argument (in the case of the press release) or to explain a perspective (in the case of the news story).

From where/to whom do we attribute information about the lawsuit and NRA efforts?
Read the packet carefully — it gives direction on how to credit the information. When you’re referring to the part the city filed in court, you can call it “the lawsuit” although you wouldn’t want to quote directly from it.

Are the defendants just in close proximity to Milwaukee?
That depends — there are two different types of defendants in this lawsuit. In the case of the gun dealers — yes, they are outside the city limits but close enough for Milwaukee residents to shop there.

What should be covered in the news story? How much focus should there be on the response by the NRA?
You want to cover both sides of the issue as equally as possible in the news story — that means representing the point of view from those who oppose what the city is trying to do. That may include the NRA, but think about what information is included there that’s most relevant to the story you’re writing.

Do we have to include the gun manufacturers’ defense in the news story? It is a lawsuit for both dealers and manufacturers…should I talk about both?
When you’re writing an informative piece, you need to cover all sides so you’re accurately representing the different perspectives. So, yes — the defendants (remember there are two types) need to have a say in response to the lawsuit.

How much time should we spend on both sides of the lawsuit?
That depends on which piece you’re writing. If you’re doing the informative story, you’ll want to give both sides equal treatment as much as possible, with the caveat that this is coming from the city’s perspective, so it may be tilted slightly more with what’s in the lawsuit. For the persuasive piece, think about how much room do you want to give the other side in your press release. (Probably not much, if at all, although you may want to find a way to subtly address the arguments made by the other side.)

How can I condense so much information that all seems pretty important into either 500 or 750 words? How do I get all of the information into the word count?
You’re going to have to decide what’s most important — and then leave the rest out. Again, go back to the communication values and the WWWWW — once you narrow that down, you’ll be able to figure out what you need to use to completely but efficiently tell the story.

What are the most important aspects to focus on?
Again, go back to the WWWWW and the communication values — that will guide you to the most important things to focus on. Then, grab a highlighter and go through the packet — what points or pieces of information line up with the information you’ve designated as important? That will be the starting blocks for your piece.

What’s the best way to check that we’re being unbiased in the informative story?
This is a really good question. That should be part of your checking process at the end — go through it point by point and maybe make some tally marks to see if you’re overdoing it with one point of view.

How hard can it be?
I like this attitude — YOU’VE GOT THIS!