J200: Reporting the News – Sports, Democracy, & Inequality

Fall 2019

J200: Mondays 9 AM- 12 PM  – 101 North Gate

J211: Tuesdays 2 PM – 5 PM – 108 North Gate (Lower Newsroom)

J298: Fridays 10-12 PM – 109 North Gate (Upper Newsroom)

Chris Ballard,

Office hours: Mondays 12-2, Tuesday 12-2

Office location: B42B

Class Tutor

Sarah Trent,

Office Hours: By appointment

Course Description & Objectives: 

J200 is an intensive, semester-long course designed to serve as the bedrock of your experience here at the J School. It consists of three sessions per week: a Monday lecture/seminar/guest section, a Tuesday afternoon lab, and a Friday class devoted to reading and review.

Our class is one of the two topical sections of J200, which means students will be drilling down on the essentials of reporting, writing, and the craft while also learning about a specific “beat” – in this case, sports, which we’ll be using as a laboratory, megaphone, and lens through which to focus on the human experience, discuss ideas, and illuminate issues. We’ll learn about the peculiar challenges of the sports world – the gatekeepers and wary subjects and media noise – and how to overcome them. Students need not have a background in sports, or even a pre-existing interest. Much of our work – likely 50% – will not be in the sports world, or will only barely overlap. Students can and will write about a wide variety of topics, from education to race to police to government to immigration. We’ll view every story as, at heart, a story about people.

Students will publish in Oakland North, Richmond Confidential, and other local outlets. When warranted, we’ll also pitch to national publications.

Weekly Schedule

J211:  Mondays

We’ll use our Monday classes for lectures, exercises, and pitching and assigning stories. We’ll cover a range of skills, from finding stories to background research to interviewing. We’ll discuss deadline writing, interviewing technique, narrative tools, and storytelling strategies. We’ll also learn how to use public records, secure access, and work with editors. A range of guests will provide perspective. Students will file stories weekly or biweekly, depending on assignments.

J211: Lab: Tuesdays

We’ll use this class time to workshop stories, edit, and re-write, fostering a collaborative newsroom atmosphere.

J298: Reading and Review: Fridays

Once a week, we’ll take time to discuss, deconstruct, and examine a range of stories and materials that highlight issues in journalism, provide models of what to do (and what not to do), and explore topics of interest to the students. Expect to be involved and active.


Readings will consist of books as well as stories linked at the class website. We’ll read some stories in class; others for homework. The readings will vary based on current events and student interests.

All students should buy a copy of The Associated Press Guide to Newswriting, by Rene J. Cappon. Read it, consult it, dog-ear it. It’ll save you time and headaches and improve your copy. It’s available at online booksellers.


Your Responsibilities

– Show up to class on time and prepared. Anyone arriving more than ten minutes late – the “Berkeley Time” start – will be considered late.

– Be proactive and engaged. Read widely and don’t be afraid to introduce new topics and suggest ideas. This class will benefit immensely from collaboration. I expect each of you to push each other, and me, to be better.

– Peer editing is one of the most important parts of the class. Take it seriously and provide thoughtful, constructive feedback. 

– Take advantage of office hours.

– Act professionally and treat your classmates, professors, interview subjects, and others with respect.


* Reporter’s notebooks or steno pads for note-taking. Look for the skinny kind you can jam in a back pocket. You can buy them at Staples, Office Depot, or online retailers.

* Pens. Make sure it’s a good one that stands up to heavy use. Personally, I’m a fan of Pilot G-2 gel pens (with the 07 tip).

* Digital recorder and/or a smartphone recording app. Using both is recommended when feasible, especially for sit-down interviews. Nothing is worse than realizing your recorder was on pause, or a call interrupted your iPhone app.

* Students are expected to meet deadlines. Miss deadline regularly and it will affect your grade. Pretend this is your job; editors are not fond of writers who aren’t reliable. We will also be workshopping frequently so you will miss out on the chance for peer feedback. If you’re going to miss a deadline, let me know.

* No haggling for grades.

* You cannot use laptops or phones during lectures, guest visits, readings, or unless otherwise requested/allowed. That means pen and paper and phones turned off; you’ll be able to check them at breaks. (Your brain might enjoy the notification-free time in between). This policy will benefit you and the class. Reporting is about taking notes. You’ll need to do it in the field and doing it by hand leads to better understanding and recall. It is also respectful to guests and your classmates.

* Class is an off-the-record space where students and guests need to feel comfortable. This encourages candor and allows students to embrace taking chances. That means no recording, broadcasting, or posting to social media.

* The best way to get better is to fail, learn from it, and try again. I expect you to push yourselves this semester, try new things, and be creative. We’ll be group editing. If your work gets sliced-and-diced, don’t take it personally. It’s all in the interest of improvement. 


If you are consistently late, or do not participate in class, or take unscheduled breaks, it will affect your grade. If you must miss a class, submit a request in writing to me in advance. You can miss one without penalty. Miss two or more classes without permission and it will affect your grade.

Legitimate excused absences per the California Education Code (CEC) include: accommodation of religious creed; approved extracurricular activities or reporting trips (permission must be sought by Week 3 of class); accommodation for disability, pregnancy, or parenting; funeral services; jury duty; and serious illness. Please note: campus absence guidelines stipulate that “students are responsible for material covered during missed classes whether or not they have been formally excused; therefore it is the student’s responsibility to inform him/herself about the material missed….It is not the instructor’s or the [Tutor’s] responsibility to tutor students in missed material. For this reason it is recommended that students absent from class for any reason make timely contact with several other students in the class to arrange for thorough briefing on the material they missed.”


You’ll be graded on the following:

Classroom participation and professionalism: 20%
Exercises and activities: 20%
Assignments, from conception to execution: 60%

Grades are earned not via talent but effort and improvement. You’ll get a letter grade at the end of the semester. Prior to that, I’ll provide edits and notes on assignments. All students will receive a mid-semester check-in. If you want to discuss your progress at any point come by office hours.

Note on Grading: I understand that none of you are here for grades. That said, keep in mind that potential employers will want to see your work and may well request a letter of reference from a J-School instructor who knows you well.


About the Instructor

I’m a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, have written four books, and have taught at the J School the last four years. I’ve contributed to the New York Times Magazine, had my work anthologized in “Best American Magazine Writing” and “Best American Sports Writing”, and had seven stories optioned for film. My teaching philosophy is that I’m all in. I’m passionate about the craft and believe it can be both meaningful and fun. I love breaking down stories, the opportunities and insights of reporting, and the puzzle of writing. I expect to learn as much from you as you do from me.

Office Hours and Communication

I’ll hold regular office hours on Mondays from 2-4 and Friday from 10-12. You can also contact me by email, which I check regularly, though when possible face to face is always better. I’ll be using an email list as the primary means of class communication, so please check your email frequently. Because I am also a working writer, I may not respond immediately to emails but will do my best to do so within 24-48 hours.

Campus policy requires that I include the following on this syllabus:

Academic Dishonesty and Plagiarism

The high academic standard at the University of California, Berkeley, is reflected in each degree that is awarded. As a result, it is up to every student to maintain this high standard by ensuring that all academic work reflects his/her/their own ideas or properly attributes the ideas to the original sources.

These are some basic expectations of students with regards to academic integrity:

Any work submitted should be your own individual thoughts, and should not have been submitted for credit in another course unless you have prior written permission to re-use it in this course from this instructor.

All assignments must use “proper attribution,” meaning that you have identified the original source of words or ideas that you reproduce or use in your assignment. This includes drafts and homework assignments.

The Student Code of Conduct is in effect at all times. There is a zero-tolerance policy for work that is submitted without proper attribution and that constitutes plagiarism. If students are unsure about the expectations regarding the Student Code of Conduct, they must seek advice from the instructors.

Disability Accommodations

If you need disability-related accommodations in this class, if you have emergency medical information you wish to share with me, or if you need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, please inform me as soon as possible either after class or in office hours. If you are not currently listed with DSP (Disabled Students’ Program) but believe that you could benefit from their support, you may apply online at

Links to University Services

  • Academic Calendar and Student Accommodations Campus Policies and Guidelines and-guidelines
  • Disabled Student Services DSP serves currently enrolled UC Berkeley students with documented disabilities seeking undergraduate and graduate degrees.
  •  Tang Center Counseling and Psychological Services CPS offers short term counseling for academic, career and personal issues. There is no charge to get started, and all registered students can access services regardless of their insurance plan.
  • Path to Care The PATH to Care Center provides affirming, empowering, and confidential support for survivors and those who have experienced gendered violence, including: sexual harassment, dating and intimate partner violence, sexual assault, stalking, and sexual exploitation. Confidential advocates bring a non-judgmental, caring approach to exploring all options, rights, and resources.
  • Student Wellness Resources A partial directory outlining campus services that may prove useful throughout a student’s time, ranging from direct academic assistance to student health and wellness resources.


Subject to revision. For assignments and an in-depth schedule, go to the class site and check it regularly.  

The semester will be a progression. Roughly the first third will be devoted to the core skills of reporting and writing – interviewing, research, quotes, ledes, and pitching. We’ll focus on in-class exercises. Students will turn around short assignments, get lots of “reps, and learn the landscape of the Bay Area and the sports world.

Part 1: Core Reporting and Writing Skills

Week 1        

8/30   Welcome. Course introduction. Humans of Berkeley

Week 2        

9/3     Finding stories. Find the News assignment

9/6     Reading and Review

Week 3        

9/9     Pitching stories, Sports Landscape Intro

9/10   Lab: 300-word, pitching

9/13   Reading and Review: Costello & Stephens

Week 4        

9/16   Field Trip: Visit to San Francisco Chronicle

9/17   Lab: Pitch Sports Overlap stories

9/20   Reading and Review: Document Frame of Mind

Week 5        

9/23   Public Records (Guest: Thomas Peele)

9/24   Lab (Overlap story pitches finalized/assigned)

9/27   Reading and Review (Guest: Karen Crouse), Clara Mokri

Week 6        

9/30   Live Reporting & Writing (Blackout)

9/31   Lab – Pitch Tick-Tock, Hyperlocal training

10/4   Reading and Review – Yuri

Week 7        

10/7   Ledes, Observation, and News Coverage

10/8   Lab – Pitch Event Coverage Story

10/11 Reading and Review

Part II Advanced Reporting and Narrative Skills

At this point, we’ll shift into advanced concepts, diving into features, profiles, and longer-form writing.

Week 8        

10/14 Story Structure [Story: Spot Feature]

10/15 Lab

10/18 Reading and Review : Jesse + Guest (Rohan Nadkarni)

Week 9        

10/21 Reporting: Access + Interviewing (Julie on Local News)

[Story: Off Warriors]

10/22 Field trip: Golden State Warriors practice

10/25 Reading and Review: Chloe and Warriors Breakdown (Class at 11:30)

Week 10     

10/28 Art of the Profile (Guest: Jenn Kahn) [Story: Profile]

 10/29 Lab

  11/1   Reading and Review

Week 11     

11/4   Essays and Columns [Story: Column]

Guest: Mark Schapiro – Environmental Journalism

11/5   Lab

11/8   Reading and Review

Part III: Putting it All Together

During the final stretch each student will proceed at the appropriate pace. Those who are ready can push into producing one to two longer stories on a topic they are passionate about (inside or outside of sports). Others may polish skills in preparation for what comes next. All will aim to produce published clips, with an emphasis on quality, not quantity.

Week 12     

11/11 No class (Veteran’s Day)  

11/12 Feature Pitches [First 2-week story] Guest: Mirin Fader

 11/15 Reading and Review

Week 13     

11/18 Advanced Storytelling: Tone and Perspective

 11/19 Lab

 11/22 Reading and Review

Week 14     

11/25 How to Be an Editor [Pitch 2-week story #2]

11/26 Lab: Co-Edits + Fact-Checking

11/29 No class (Thanksgiving)

Week 15     

12/2 The next step: Publication & Professionalism (Daniel discussion)

12/3 Guest: Joaquin Palomino, presenting on Data Journalism

12/6 Last class. Final presentations