Media Products and Strategies for Communication Specialists

This course is designed to be a hands-on learning bonanza for Communication, Journalism and Public Relations students who want to capture leadership positions as Press Secretary, Director of Communication, Media Relations Manager, Public Affairs Officer or Public Information Officer.

Course Description

Communication specialists are charged with explaining the goals, mission and value of nonprofits, government operations and private sector enterprises around the nation. Whatever their titles, they are responsible for positively shaping the messages and perceptions of that organization in the public’s mind.

In times of crisis, they must be the voice of reason that explains potentially damaging information, calms public fears and monitors reactions through the news media and community meetings. It’s essential for communication professionals in all fields to understand that information is always flowing, ever-changing and always in need of checks to be sure their clients and organizations are current on trends – positive and negative.

To compete in this delicate media dance between senders and receivers; business and government, and leaders, media and citizens requires utilizing a variety of media products that communicate message and missions. This course will incorporate a strategic exploration of political communication with a practical approach to media creation—both necessary to the communications specialist.

Course Objectives:

Students will:

  • Create media products that explain and promote an organization’s mission, while keeping the public and government cognizant of its good works and maintaining a proper image during times of crisis.
  • Analyze how information and news products influence politics and public opinion by engaging in a series of in-class writing and strategy sessions, class debates, field interviews, and critical essays. They will also produce a photo essay and short video, and conduct a press conference and deliver a rousing speech on assigned topics.
  • Demonstrate how technology—especially apps, the Internet and data archives—are used to create community around an issue or call to action.
  • Explore the uneasy relationship between politicians, their advisors, the media and the public, then determine how best to approach or respond to journalists, political spokespersons, politicians and citizens to create the needed spin.
  • Lead discussion individually and as members of a group on news issues, enhancement of skills and political strategy; investigate how social media impacts the media process.

Required Materials

-Media Relations Handbook for Government, Associations, Nonprofits, and Elected Officials (Second Edition). Bradford Fitch, author; Jack Holt, editor. Kindle ISBN: 978-1-58733-253-1.

-Dynamics of Media Writing: Adapt and Connect by Vincent F. Filak.

Kindle ISBN: 978-1483377605.

-Articles, audio/visual content as assigned by the instructor.

Expectations

  • Students should arrive on time, having reviewed assigned materials, and participate
  • Missing class is permitted (with prior approval from instructor) for illness, emergency or internship-related opportunity. An absence for any other reason will be penalized.
  • Students are expected to do their own work and you are expected cite sources.
  • Students should discuss in advance with the instructor any needed accommodation.

Semester Grading Scale based on 1000 Points (or TBD)

A: 930-to-1000 points. | A-: 900-to-929.

B+: 870-to-899 points. | B: 830-to-869. | B-: 800-to-829.

C+: 770-to-799 points. | C: 730-to-769. | C-: 700-to-729.

D+: 670-to-699 points. | D: 630-to-669. | F: 629 or below.

Assignment Grading Scale

Attention/Participation: 100 points.

Project Assignments: 500 points. | Midterm: 150 points. | Final: 250 points.

Project Assignments:

Project 1 (100 points) — Write an 800-word profile of the organization assigned by the instructor, focusing on its story, its mission, media and online media strategy. Further details to be provided by the instructor.

Project 2 (100 points) — A dozen or so historical photos and video clips will be distributed in a PDF that tell the story of a significant event in the political life of the United States. Write a 700-word analysis on the use of photography/videography as tools in political communication, emphasizing how issues were framed, how public perception was changed and how content altered debate on Capitol Hill or among citizens.

Project 3 (100 points) — Conduct a Press Conference based on a topic and client/employer selected in class. Keep in mind the mood of the electorate and lawmakers as you plan. Ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish. Remember: How you present the items as part of an overall agenda, how it’s framed, if lobbyists have a role and the impact (real or perceived) on the public’s interest figure into the success of your event. Dozens of PCs are held daily so you must figure out what will make yours special. Here are your duties: 1) Write a one-page press release (50 points); 2) Deliver an opening statement of up to two minutes (25 points), and 3) Field questions from “reporters” portrayed by your classmates (25 points).

Project 4 (100 points) — Write and deliver a rousing five-minute speech on your assigned topic that features a solid point of view and a strong call to action. The speech should put your clients in the best possible light and position them as strategic thinkers who truly understand the dynamics of U.S. and world politics.

Project 5 (100 points) — Write a feature story assigned by the instructor, then use that story as a centerpiece to pitch the organization’s goals to broadcast and print media. Be sure to include interview sources, and photo and video possibilities, and a clear explanation of how the story will further the organization’s goals and mission.

Week 1:

Reading Assignment

Fitch, Chapter One: First Steps

  • Getting to Know the Principal
  • Assessing Your Strategic Position and Historical Record
  • Learning the Office Strategic Goals
  • Assessing the Issue Terrain

Classroom Activity

  • Course Overview
  • Syllabus Review
  • Who are the Professionals?
  • What are the Products?

Week 2:

Reading Assignment

Fitch, Chapter One: First Steps

  • Conducting a Resource Assessment
  • Asset Inventory
  • Media Directories and Software
  • Getting to Know Your Reporters
  • Creating a Communication Plan

Classroom Activity

Success Principles that develop your leadership skills.

Week 3: Project 1 due

Reading Assignment

Filak, Part I: The Basics

  • Chapter 1—Know Your Audience
  • Chapter 3—Grammar and Style
  • Chapter 4—Basic Media Writing

Classroom Activity

The Writing Process—a step-by-step review with in-class exercises covering idea formation, research, reporting, organization, drafting, editing, rewrite.

Week 4:

Reading Assignment

Fitch, Chapter 2: Tools of the Craft

  • Press Release
  • Press Advisory
  • Backgrounders

Classroom Activity

Guest speaker pending.

Week 5: Project 2 due

Filak, Part I: The Basics

  • Interviewing
  • Writing on the Web
  • Law and Ethics in Media Writing

Classroom Activity

There’s a reason social media and the web are powerful tools in communicating messages. We’ll consider the statistics and try to link message with method when it comes to writing tweets, posts and live-streaming.

Week 6:

Reading Assignment

Fitch, Chapter 2: Tools of the Craft

  • Speeches
  • Press Conferences

Classroom Activity

Guest speaker pending

Week 7: Project 3 due

Reading Assignment

Fitch, Chapter 2: Tools of the Craft

  • Speeches
  • Press Conferences

Classroom Activity

Guest speaker pending

Week 8: Midterm

Reading Assignment

Fitch, Chapter 2: Tools of the Craft

  • Photography and Video
  • Video News Release
  • Public Service Announcements

Classroom Activity

The use of visuals in storytelling will take us to the origins of photography in news gathering and the advent of TV in presidential campaigns and wars. We’ll break into teams to produce a Video News Release and write a PSA.

Week 9: Spring Break

No class meeting but keep up with the news.

Week 10: Project 4 due

Reading Assignment

Fitch, Chapter 2: Tools of the Craft

  • Newsletters and Magazines

Classroom Activity

Creation of print concepts that encompass an organization’s branding and mission. Creating content – words and visuals –that tell the story without being pushy or too obvious. Principles of Design will be discussed by a pending guest speaker who will team with instructor this class.

Week 11:

Field Visit to The Washington Post, CNN or HuffPost, followed by Q&A of guest speaker from the newsroom.

Week 12: Project 5 due

Reading Assignment

Fitch, Chapter 3: Developing a Message and Communication Plan

  • Strategic Messages
  • Campaign Messages
  • Taking Advantage of Opportunities

Filak, Part III: Focus on Marketing Media

  • Defining PR
  • Bad News
  • Localization
  • Fact Sheets

Classroom Activity

A discussion and debate about when it’s proper or advantageous to stay out of the news cycle. Is it a disservice to patrons or the public? When to say, “no comment” and when to just keep walking and not utter a word.

Week 13

Reading Assignment

Fitch, Chapter 4: Interacting with Reporters

  • Steps to Pitching a Story
  • Handling Negative Stories
  • Using Embargoes
  • Dealing with Trade or Specialty Press

Classroom Activity

Students will pitch stories to designated media, and the advantages and disadvantages of cultivating the trades and specialty press will be discussed

Week 14: Project 6 due

Reading Assignment

Fitch, Chapter 4: Interacting with Reporters

  • Steps to Pitching a Story
  • Handling Negative Stories
  • Using Embargoes
  • Dealing with Trade or Specialty Press

Classroom Activity

Students will pitch stories to designated media, and the advantages and disadvantages of cultivating the trades and specialty press will be discussed.

Week 14: Project 6 due

Reading Assignment

Fitch, Chapter 6: Online Communication

  • • Old Media versus New Media
  • • How to Get the Boss to Go Online
  • • Tracking and Adjusting Your Web Site
  • • How to Write Great Subject Lines
  • • Web Site as Journalist Resource

Classroom Activity

Guest speaker pending.

Week 15:

Reading Assignment

Fitch, Chapter 7: Dealing with the Principal

  • Developing a Relationship
  • Assessing Strengths and Weaknesses
  • How to Defuse the Exploding Principal

Fitch, Chapter 8: Interview Preparation

  • Assessing the Reporter’s Questions
  • Preparing for the Negative Interview
  • Media Training

Classroom Activity

Scenarios replicating crises in several fields will compel students to role-play, strategize and write as they deal with “bosses” and the media. The second part will have teams prepping their designated principal for tough interviews conducted by the instructor.

Week 16: FINAL

The FINAL will take the entire session to complete. There will be one break.

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