COMM 425-Special Topics in Politics and Journalism



Instructor: Dr. Lydia Timmins


Office: 244 Pearson Hall

Office Hours: M 2:30-4, W 10-11, F 12;15-1:15 and by appointment

Office Phone: 831-3567 Department Phone: 831-8041

Course Meeting Time & Place: MWF 1:25-2:15, 206 Alison Hall West

Course Description: This course will offer you a first experience in the concepts and practice of developing and presenting a full-length investigative, political television news documentary, including program concept, design, field reporting, producing, editorial decision-making, writing, digital video editing and presentation.

Course Objective: Our goal, as a class/production team, is to produce and present a single, 30 minute documentary on a political subject, which may be presented publicly, aired on the University of Delaware student television station, and posted on a video-sharing web site. You will learn about program and element selection and writing, developing and conducting television interviews, shooting video elements, researching the politics of the subject and other aspects of television news.

Class History

In Spring, 2004, students in Broadcast News Documentary produced “Behind Bars: The Alcohol Industry in Newark, Delaware,” a backstage look at the bar scene around the University of Delaware.

In Spring, 2006, students in Broadcast News Documentary produced “Ready… or Not?”, an investigation of disaster readiness in Delaware which won two national and regional awards.

In Spring 2009 students in Broadcast News Documentary produced “LEFT BEHIND: Chrysler’s Newark Assembly Plant Past, Present & Future” won 6 regional and national awards.

In Spring 2011, the class produced “The Quiet Riot: Apathy and Activism” which is in the running for regional and national awards. Students were also featured on WHYY’s “Delaware First” news program.


This is an unusual course which doesn’t involve a lot of lectures. It will feel more like a series of planning meetings and seminars, followed by hands-on work to create the documentary program. You will engage in every aspect of this production, from reporting to production. Please be prepared to go-with-the-flow.

Time spent in other classes preparing papers and reading books will be spent in this class preparing the “elements” of our full-length documentary. Therefore, you should expect to spend considerable time outside of class meetings researching, developing and preparing the elements for our program. Time in class will be spent reviewing your work and collaboratively preparing the program, which will be recorded near the end of the semester. If the final program quality warrants, it will be broadcast over UD’s Student Television Network (STN), and may be submitted for national competition.

Your questions, impressions and discussion are very much encouraged in this class. This is not a “lecture” course. Just as in the “real world” of television news, independent, analytical, creative and critical thinking is highly valued. So your ideas and contribution to class participation will be reflected in your final grade.

There will be numerous assignments outside of class, including researching and gathering television news elements (such as video, photographs, interviews, graphics and information) and planning for the broadcast. You will be called upon to learn and exercise videography skills you may not have used before.

You’ll be expected to attend class; it’s hard to imagine how learning can take place without your attendance and active participation. Unexcused absences will result in the automatic lowering of your grade.

Multimedia Design Center

In the Student Multimedia Design Center you will find and use all the tools you need to produce completely professional television elements for your documentary. The SMDC is open until 2:00am most nights.

At the SMDC you will be able to:

  1. work with classmates in groups to produce your assignments
  2. borrow top-quality field camera equipment, including microphones, lights, etc.
  3. use state-of-the-art video editing software on either Windows or Macintosh computers to produce your news reports
  4. Make reservations (up to one week in advance) to use individual studios where you can record and stage production elements, including graphics, photos and video (Note: studios at the SMDC close earlier than 2am.)
  5. transfer your finished products to your portable hard drive for use in the documentary and for your own use

Info about the

Working with Others

Students in this class will discover quickly that without the efforts of every student, our program will simply not materialize. Collaboration is absolutely essential. If this kind of group working environment is uncomfortable to you, you’re in the wrong class. In addition, some of the equipment we will use is being shared with students in COMM326 (TV Field Production) taught by Ms. Nancy Karibjanian, which means we’ll have to work collaboratively with students not even in our class.

Teaching Assistants will assist you with checking-out and using the field and editing equipment, and with the studio equipment and editing. They are talented and helpful people! Take advantage of their expertise and office hours.


How much you gain from this class will depend in large measure on how well you prepare yourself for the content of the documentary program we will produce. The course textbook has been chosen to help you understand the process of creating television news. But the content of our documentary depends on your ability to observe and read about what is occurring in the world around you and to include references to that timely information in your documentary.

Observation and reading of “the news” will be important to your program. A national newspaper such as The New York Times or The Washington Post either in hard copy or on the internet, can offer a perspective of “what’s going on” at the national and international level. Substantial-discount newspaper subscriptions are available at the Newark Newsstand. For local and campus news, you’ll want to read The Review and the News Journal (available online at and keep your eyes and ears open as a reporter during the semester around campus.


Perhaps the single most important skill in television news careers is thoughtful, insightful, analytical, concise, clear, quality writing. Industry professionals repeatedly say college graduates don’t have the writing skills they need for their first industry jobs. Therefore, your writing is highly valued in this course. Your grade will be very heavily influenced by the quality and the content of your writing.

There is no “final exam” in this class. Your final product, the documentary, will be a measure of your performance.

Any assignments submitted after their due date will receive automatically-reduced grades.


MiniDV videotape

Students must obtain a small supply of digital videotapes (“MiniDV”) on which you will record your elements for this program. Clean, fresh tapes produce the best work. You may want to retain a resume record of the documentary after the semester concludes. Since the final program will be recorded to DVD, you may also wish to obtain some DVDs on which to make copies for yourself.

You may also find it very helpful to purchase a portable hard disk drive for saving and transferring your video files to and from computers in the laboratory.

Your tapes and disks should be clearly marked with your name and phone number or email address. Leave space on the tape for identification of its content according to the labeling scheme we will use throughout the semester.

You may also need a flash drive for saving and transferring small files to computers in edit.

Computer Use in this Course

You will work on program rundowns and script content for the documentary on specialized computer software (EZ News) available in Pearson 116. You will use Internet resources to find information for the elements you produce. And you will use newsroom simulation software which is very similar to facilities used in real broadcast newsrooms.

Students are encouraged to investigate Internet sites as sources, and should critically evaluate them for content, reliability and timeliness.

You will be working extensively with video editing software. This is the same professional-level system used by many television stations, networks and video production houses all around the world.

We have access to CNN Newssource to pull video on a national level we might not otherwise be able to access.

Students will be required to observe copyright laws in producing your documentary.


This is an active “participation” course. In addition to writing and thinking about our documentary, you’ll be required to actually create a broadcastable program, made up of broadcastable elements. That won’t happen if you’re not active, especially in a class as small as ours. Writing, thinking and class participation (as well as mere attendance) are critical elements of this class. Please remember that in broadcast news, timeliness is critical; late assignments will automatically lose credit. Your grades will be based on my observation of your individual effort toward producing our documentary. I will use these criteria:

  1. Student’s “engagement” in our semester-long project: Is the student actively involved?
  2. Attention to detail: Are assignments researched thoroughly, carried out completely, accurately, fairly?
  3. Support for the team: Do the assignments of each student contribute successfully to the team program effort?
  4. Polish, professionalism
  5. Absenteeism: Does a student ignore the effect of his/her absence on the rest of the team effort? Does the student work hard to prevent others from having to pick up the slack?

Because there are no traditional “exams” and no “papers,” your grades will be based on the semester-long project of creating the documentary. Because there are no traditional-style assignments, it will be a bit difficult for you to receive individual feedback. You will receive lots of group and project-related feedback throughout the semester, and a substantive mid-term evaluation. I will be constructively critical of your work. And I am always glad to offer you advice!

Students missing more than three classes will automatically experience a grade reduction.

Professionalism and Integrity

You should be smart, professional and enthusiastic in your interaction with people you interview and guest speakers in this course.

You are expected to observe and uphold the University’s code of academic integrity and the rules against plagiarism. Plagiarism is a major, career-killing offense in the communication industry. Violations in this course will not be treated lightly and will be referred to University authorities in accordance with established university regulations.

Your written work should have a professional appearance. Even your most creative work will suffer from poor writing, spelling and formatting. You’ll discover one of the values of appearance when you, as an anchor, stumble over sloppy copy from a TelePrompTer. Likewise, your on-camera performance should have a professional character.


The portable video production equipment you will use in this class is both expensive and relatively fragile.  The Communication Department assumes “reasonable wear” but will hold students responsible financially for loss or damage resulting from neglect or abuse.  Cases of suspected abuse or neglect will be referred to the Chair of the Communication Department for resolution.  The same will be true for any equipment that is lost, stolen, or misplaced while assigned to a student.  Students who have an unresolved conflict regarding payment for lost or damaged equipment will not be assigned a course grade until the conflict is resolved to the satisfaction of the Department.

You will check out equipment by name. The student in whose name the equipment is assigned will be the person responsible for payment resulting from damages or losses.  It is strongly suggested that students not “loan” equipment to others for which they are officially responsible.

We are sharing field and editing equipment with COMM 326 (Nancy Karibjanian’s class). In general, however, we expect to have one set of field gear available to our class at all times. We also have one edit station (#4) in the COMM suite (at 77 E. Main St.) exclusively devoted to our class.

Use the Google calendar to reserve editing time. You may use Edit station 4 at any time (reserve it, or use it if it’s not in use by another member of our class). Students in COMM 326 get first priority on Edit stations 1 & 2, but when they are not in use or reserved, you may use them for practice or for developing/experimenting with edits and effects. The SMDC also has editing equipment, and more of it, so don’t give up if the COMM suite at 77 East Main is full.

Editing software and equipment

All edit stations at 77 E. Main are equipped with Final Cut Studio. At the SMDC you can use Final Cut Express or Final Cut Pro. This editing software is slowly replacing Avid at many TV stations. Tutorials on this software are available in the SMDC, at 77 E. Main and on the Internet. Learn how to use it now and the skill will serve you well in the future!

In the TV studio (room 101C Pearson), we have available:

-a graphics-creation and editing computer station, on which we’ll want to create the graphics for our program. Anything created on this “CG” station is transferrable to DVD or to a portable hard drive in the studio, and then portable to the editing stations for inclusion in the documentary.

-cameras, TelePrompTer and a professional studio “set” for recording any on-camera segments we might decide to use.

-DVD recording and playback equipment

Course Meeting Date In-class Activity Notes
Week 1: February 6, 8,110 introduction – review of course logistics, syllabus, policies and topicsreading assignment: begin reading course text, broadcast news handbook: writing, reporting and producing in a converging media world, sample some tv news docs, discuss concept of news documentary
Week 2: February 13, 15, 17 technology introduction field gear editing equipment EZ News, brainstorm program ideas and plan assignments: lists of specific ideas for segments shoots interviews, inventory of locations for shoots
Week 3: February 20, 22, 24 program planning & research continues. break into segment teams.begin reporting
Week 4: Feb27, 29, March 2 program planning & research continues. break into segment teams.begin reporting
Week 5: March 5, 7, 9 location shooting , continue reporting
Week 6: March 12, 14, 16 location shooting , continue reporting
Week 7: March 19, 21, 23 location shooting , continue reporting
Week 8: Mar 26, 28, 30 spring break HAVE FUN!
Week 9: April 2, 4, 6 shootingscript writing

editing segments

Week 10: April 9, 11, 13 shooting wrapupscript writing
Week 11: April 16, 18, 20 recording voice tracksediting segments

graphics production

Week 12: April 23, 25, 27 editing segments graphics, music production
Week 13: April 30, May 2, 4 editing final programfinal graphics production

last-minute shooting for “patches”

Week 14: May 7, 9, 11 final edit continueslast-minute shooting for “patches”
Week 15: May 14 documentary premierepublic presentation

broadcast on STN and posted to internet webcast

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