Investigative Journalism and Democracy in the U.S. — Annotated Syllabus


Aug 26: Introduction to the Course

 Student Objectives: Begin to develop an understanding of reasons why investigative reporting is important. Meet classmates and start getting comfortable speaking in a group discussion. Understand overall structure of class, review syllabus. Introduce article assignment, have students sign up to present. Briefly discuss final project. Introduce blog assignment, show students how to access blog in Sakai.

Activities: Class discussion of the importance of investigative journalism. Discuss some issues worth investigating in the U.S., whether those issues have had coverage in the past and what would be the benefit of gaining more information about those issues.

Resources: Use projector to look at syllabus and project guidelines for blogs and article presentations.



Sept 9: History of Investigative Journalism in the U.S.

Student Prep: Read Ch. 2 and 3, Complete Article Discussion #1

Student Objectives: Learn about early beginnings of investigative journalism in the U.S. Understand how past investigative projects have affected society.

Activities:  Student Presentations. Discussion on the influence of early investigative journalists. What factors may have motivated journalists to pursue the stories they did? What impact did their research have on society? Do you think those store stories have had a lasting effect? Student presentations.

Resources: PPT for lecture on early journalists.


Sept 16: Contemporary Investigative Journalism

Student Prep:  Read Ch. 4 and 5

Student Objectives: Understand contemporary examples of investigative journalism. Compare topics of historical cases to modern cases. Discuss how these stories impacted student lives and overall society. Understand guidelines for final project.

Activities: Student Presentations. Discussion of contemporary stories and their impacts on society. How do these stories affect you personally? Where would our society be without this kind of research? Student presentations.

Resources:  PPT for lecture. Bring current newspapers/magazines with investigative stories.

Sept 23: Investigative Journalism and U.S. Laws

Student Prep: Read Ch. 1, 6 and 7, Complete Article Discussion #2

Student Objectives: Understand basics of Florida Sunshine Laws. Understand public information laws and some ways to access public information. Begin to develop an understanding of journalistic ethics, “public interest” and how government regulations dictate access to information. Examine some issues of media regulation.

Activities: Student Presentations. Discussion of media regulation in the U.S. Who has the right to regulate and why? Discuss “public interest.” What are the pros and cons of media regulation? Why are some topics regulated more than others?

Resources: PPT for lecture. Florida Sunshine Manual to pass around to students for brief examination.


Sept 30: Gathering Tools to do Investigative Work

Student Prep: Read Ch. 8 and 9, Bring laptop/tablet to next class

Student Objectives: Gather some basic tools for pursuing investigative work. Be able to think about investigative journalism in a practical and accomplishable way. Begin thinking about a plan for investigating issues of interest.

Activities: Sleuth Activity (see lesson plan). Student Presentations. Discussion of the trials and tribulations of investigative journalism. What are some potential obstacles in finding sensitive information? What are some potential ways to overcome these obstacles? How do you know if you are making ethical decisions?

Resources: PPT for lecture. Empty tool box for opener.


Oct 7: Getting Published

Student Prep: Read Ch. 10, Complete Article Discussion #3

Student Objectives: Develop an array of sources that may serve as venues for later publication. Identity publications that are more likely to publish investigative work. Understand the economic and political reasons that influence whether publications publish investigative work. Understand the guidelines for pitching the final project.

Activities: Student Presentations. Discussion of the similarities and differences of academic publishing and publication in commercial news outlets and magazines. What are the differences in style, content, audience and method?

Resources: PPT for lecture. Bring Mother Jones, National Geographic, Gainesville Sun, the Iguana and other publications for students to skim through.


Oct 14: Final Project Pitches

Student Prep: Read Ch. 11 and 12, Complete Final Project Pitch

Student Objectives: See a range of options and interests concerning investigative topics. Gain clarification over issues of apprehension for final project.

Activities: Student presentations. Student pitches. Discussion of apprehensions and feedback from group. What are some issues you are concerned about in regards to your project? What is your impression of the projects proposed by your classmates?

Resources: Students will bring resources for their pitches.


Oct 21: Writing Styles and Multimedia

Student Prep: Read Ch. 13, 14 and 15, Complete Article Discussion #4

Student Objectives: Understand the variety of writing styles and formats in which investigative works are presented. Understand the importance of audience and what specific styles communicate outside from content.

Activities: Student presentations. Discussion of why styles and media formats matter. What did Marshall McLuhan mean when he said, “the medium is the message?” What do video, audio, writing and radio formats communicate, aside from media content? How do you choose a medium and style to present information?

Resources: PPT for lecture, include multimedia stories.

Oct 28: Field Trip to Gainesville Sun!

Student Prep: Read Ch. 16, 17 and 18

Student Objectives: Meet media professionals and see what a major newspaper environment looks like. See how a major newspaper juggles investigative reporting among other beats.

Activities: Field Trip!

Resources: None for the day.

Nov 4: Telling Stories for Democracy

Student Prep: Read Ch. 19, 20, 21 and 22, Bring final project materials to next class

Student Objectives: Understand how investigative journalism is made possible by a democratic and how the investigative journalism keeps a democratic society in check. Gain clarification on any last issues or concerns with final project proposals.

Activities: Student presentations. Discussion of the effects of investigative journalism on democracy. Why is important to pursue investigative work? How do mainstream media outlets present sensitive and contentious information?

Resources: PPT for lecture.




Nov 18: Presentations


Student Objectives: Act as an audience for the presentations of classmates. Gain understanding on the interests of others. See the variety of potential in investigative work.

Activities: Final project presentations.

Resources: Up to student.


Nov 25: Presentations

Student Objectives: Act as an audience for the presentations of classmates. Gain understanding on the interests of others. See the variety of potential in investigative work.

Activities: Final project presentations.

Resources: Up to student.


Dec 2: Presentations

Student Prep: Complete student blog.

Student Objectives: Act as an audience for the presentations of classmates. Gain understanding on the interests of others. See the variety of potential in investigative work.

Activities: Final project presentations. Debrief class, thank students.

Resources: Up to student.


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