MEDPL 377 | Neighborhood News

Course Description

Welcome to Neighborhood News, the class that publishes the Hunts Point Express newspaper and website. You are part of an exciting and unique experiment in newspapering and education. By agreeing to take this class, you are providing a neighborhood with an essential public service that they would not otherwise have. In exchange, you will get to report real news, write real stories and publish those stories on the web and in print for a real audience. This is not a drill!

Newspapers only exist in places where advertisers are seeking customers — unless those newspapers are funded by a non-profit. Even papers with big budgets don’t have the resources — and often not even the inclination — to reach places such as the South Bronx. Low-income neighborhoods are left with no means to communicate with each other, or with the rest of the world. As a result, the rights, the needs and the lifestyles of people living in neighborhoods like Hunts Point continue to be marginalized and misunderstood.

Our newspaper and website, The Hunts Point Express, intends to serve the people of Hunts Point and Longwood. You, the students, will write news and feature stories about the neighborhoods’ people and institutions. Through these assignments, you will learn to find ideas, develop sources, pitch stories and write with clarity in a conversational style. Topics include housing, crime, development, religion, local business, historic preservation, the arts, the environment, health, education, transportation, politics, sports and parks. You will also contribute all the photography, video and social media for the paper. As a staff, we will try to cover the big issues facing the neighborhood, but we hope you will discover and uncover the people and places that make the place unique.

Syllabus overview

You will produce a minimum of four stories, reporting in person in the Bronx using a variety of techniques—observation, interviews, meeting coverage, press conferences and scrutiny of documents. Stories will be developed through a three-phase “snowball” process: Pitch / Draft / Final. You will have one week to complete each phase of the process.

Your weekly diet of readings will include exceptional examples of local reporting and explanations and illustrations of life in the South Bronx. In general, you will be assigned two to four stories or chapters each week, to be completed before class so we can use them in our discussions. You will also read each other’s work; we will critique each issue as a group.

Class will meet once a week for three hours. We will use class time for seminars, pitching, critiquing and one-on-one editing.

While I am the professor for the class, Joe Hirsch is the editor of the paper. He and I will work together to assign stories, I will edit your drafts, and he and I will help throughout the process with sourcing and idea generation.

Expectations and Grading

General deadlines: Unless noted otherwise in this syllabus, each story will take three weeks to produce, and deadlines will be 9 a.m. on TUESDAYS. You will pitch a story in class the first week; submit a draft the second week; submit a final story in the third week. For each assignment, I will provide a template to guide you through the steps needed to prepare your story. All assignments must be emailed to me by deadline unless you have asked for an extension beforehand and it has been granted. Feel free to work in advance of any deadlines.

Photography deadlines: Your stories are not complete without art. In fact, our web page layouts require that a story have a photograph, and stories without photos in the paper will not be featured as prominently, and will definitely not make page one.

Social media deadlines: Each student will contribute to the paper’s Instagram feed for each story. These posts can be based on reporting from your story, or from general observations from your time on the street.

Beat note and source list: A beat note includes all the basic information about your beat area, in this case, Bronx Community District 2. It also has a list of sources categorized by topic area. We will start a beat note together on the first day of class; please add to it as you meet sources.

Required texts

Jill Jonnes, “South Bronx Rising: The rise, fall, and resurrection of an American City”
AP Stylebook – online subscription or paperback. Old ones are ok.
There will be additional assigned readings some weeks.

Story requirements

• Stories should be between 500 and 800 words, though longer stories can be discussed.
• Always bring your drafts, notes and source list to class. Whenever time permits, and on three specified days, we’ll turn the classroom into the newsroom. Joe and I will work with you one-on-one, and you’ll follow up by doing the necessary reporting and/or rewriting. Those not working with an editor will be working on their stories.
• Include all sources and contact information for your sources at the bottom of the story. I will contact sources directly when needed.

Class participation

Reporters write alone, but, like students, they learn from one another. Your active participation is essential, and will be considered in grading. You are expected to participate in the critiques of others’ stories. And you will be expected to ask questions of guests in class.


I’m here to help you succeed. No one who does the work will fail. Depending on the complexity of the stories and the quality of the work, four published stories can earn a grade in the A range; three published stories can earn a grade in the B range. Students who produce less than three stories cannot earn higher than a C. One story only will result in an F.

Incompletes will only be considered for students who have completed all but the last assignment, and then only if the reason for the request is a documented illness or emergency. College rules require a student to average C or above to be eligible to request an Incomplete grade

Grading on stories: To follow is the *general* rubric for grades on each of your stories AFTER a second rewrite; grading will also reflect the complexity of the story and the range of reporting:
A= publishable as is
B= publishable with light editing
C= publishable with a (third) rewrite
D= major problems with facts, reporting, writing
F= missing key facts, containing gross misspellings, plagiarism or libel

Expected Learning Outcomes

By the end of the term, students will be able to:
➢ Develop sources and story ideas;
➢ Communicate with sources in a professional manner;
➢ Conduct thoughtful and fair interviews;
➢ Report on events and use careful observation in written stories;
➢ Write stories on deadline;
➢ Post stories, photos and videos to the website’s CMS;
➢ Contribute to our paper’s social media presence.

Weekly Schedule

WEEK 1 | Introductions: the Neighborhood, the Newspaper and the Class
Seminar: Story Templates & the Story Development Process
Assignment: Identify and read at least five stories in the New York daily papers about Hunts Point. Via email, send me the list and links of stories you read, as well as three follow-up story ideas.

WEEK 2 | Neighborhood Tour
Board of Directors: Councilmember Salamanca and Mothers on the Move
Meet at 10:30 a.m. sharp at the councilman’s district office at 1070 Southern Boulevard, Bronx.

Introduction to WordPress with Sha Sha Feng
Board of Directors Guest: Paul Lipson
Story 1 Pitch Meeting
DUE: Story 1 pitch

Seminar: Making Good Pictures
Guest: Pulitzer Center Photographer Sean Gallagher
Location: Hunter classroom, though we may switch rooms (TBD)
DUE: Story 1 draft

Seminar: Notes & Quotes
Classroom as newsroom (one-on-one editing)
DUE: Story 1 Final

Story 2 Pitch Meeting
Board of Directors: Buddy Stein to class
DUE: Story 2 Pitch

Seminar: Developing a Beat
Classroom as Newsroom
DUE: Story 2 Draft

Tentative: Bronx River Paddle
DUE: Story 2 Final

Crit: Issues 1 & 2
Story 3 Pitch Meeting
Seminar: Ledes
DUE: Story 3 Pitch

Classroom as Newsroom
Bias Workshop
DUE: Story 3 Draft

Seminar: Structure
DUE: Story 3 Final

Seminar: Writing with Detail
Story 4 Pitch Meeting
DUE: Story 4 Pitch

Classroom as Newsroom
Crit Issue 3
Seminar: Making the most of social media
DUE: Story 4 Draft

WEEK 14 | Dec. 6
Seminar: The Twin Perils of Journalism
Classroom as Newsroom
Watch: “Shattered Glass”
DUE: Story 4 Final

WEEK 14 | Dec. 13
Final class