Syllabus: JRN 408/808 Reporting on Islam (Fall 2009)

Special Topics in Journalism

Fall 2009

Mon. 9:10 a.m. – noon

236 Communication Arts & Sciences Bldg.

A print version of this document is available for download in PDF format Zeldes Syllabus Fall 2009

Geri Alumit Zeldes, Ph.D.

Office: 358 CAS Bldg.

E-mail: [email protected]

Course Objectives — What You Will Learn

Students will analyze news stories on Muslims and Islam in the U.S. and international press. They will be instructed on the complexity of Islam as a religion and the cultural practices of Muslims. Students will also create content – such as blogs, video and audio podcasts, photographs, slideshows and other online story forms – focused on Reporting on Muslims and Islam. Some content will be based on interviews with scholars, expert journalists and members of the Muslim community. Students will also help develop a “Best Practices for Reporting on Islam” document. Materials from the class may be included in the MSU Web site called Journal/Islam: IMAJE – Islam, Muslims and Journalism Education.

Required Textbook & Other Readings

Edward W. Said. (1981. Revised 1997.) Covering Islam: How the Media and the

Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World. New York: Vintage Books.

Subscribe to the following newsletters:

  • International Center for Journalists:
  • Religion Newswriters:

Also, read the New York Times and local newspapers, such as The State News and the Lansing State Journal, listen to National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered and watch 60 Minutes and CBS Sunday Morning.

Recommended Readings

1) Sumbul Ali-Karamali. (2008). The Muslim Next Door: The Qur’an, the Media, and that

Veil Thing. Ashland, Oregon: White Cloud Press.

2) Mohammed Ayoob. (2008). The Many Faces of Political Islam: Religion and Politics

in the Muslim World. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

3) Marda Dunsky. (2008). Pens and Swords: How the American Mainstream Media

Report the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

4) Noha Mellor. (2008). Modern Arab Journalism: Problems and Prospects.

5) Tudor Parfitt, and Yulia Egorova. (2007) (Editors). Jews, Muslims, and Mass Media:

Mediating the “Other.”

6) Mary Pat Fisher (2007). Living Religions. I B Tauris & Co Ltd. (Text for J391 Religion

and the Media)

7) Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Roberta Green-Ahmason. (2008). Blind Spot:  When

Journalists Don’t Get Religion. Oxford University Press. (Text for J391 Religion and the Media)

8) Edward W. Said. (1993). Culture and Imperialisim. New York: Vintage Books.

9) Edward W. Said. (1995). Orientalism. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

10) Anthony Shadid. (2005). Night Draws Near. New York: Henry Holt.

11) William Shepard. (2009). Introducing Islam. London: Routledge – Taylor & Francis


12) Dona J. Stewart. (2009). The Middle East Today: Political, Geographical and

Cultural Perspectives. London: Routledge – Taylor & Francis Group.

Course Organization

The seminar style will allow us to help each other understand the complexities of Islam as well as the challenges of reporting on Muslims and Islam, so participation in discussions is key.

  • Reading assignments – You will be responsible for reading assignments prior to class, so that we can use our time together to build on the readings.
  • Digital storytelling – This semester offers a “come as you are” digital media approach to presenting papers or stories. Using anything you have at your disposal (digital camera, camcorder, cell phone, audio recorder, Web cam, laptop, etc.), you will be asked to produce content that includes elements of digital storytelling.
  • Format – The course consists of a combination of lectures, group discussions, presentations and in-class news writing assignments. The first third of the semester will be devoted to learning about covering the religion beat, Islam in particular. The rest of the semester will be spent analyzing and covering stories involving Muslims and Islam.

Assignments – How You Will Demonstrate What You Learn

In addition to classroom exercises, each student will produce two (individual) stories about Muslims and Islam and one paper with a presentation that analyzes the reporting on Islam in one country. Specific instruction on the exercises will be given in class prior to the assignments.

  • In-class Interviews – Each student will be responsible for interviewing a guest lecturer prior to the lecture. You will conduct research on the interviewee and develop a list of at least five questions to ask him or her. This interview will be videotaped and may be used as a video podcast on the IMAJE Web site.
  • In-class Exercises – Lab exercises will focus on finding good and bad examples of reportage on Muslims and Islam and contributing to our Wiki site, which will be devoted to defining terms and locating resources to help in reporting on Muslims and Islam.
  • Analysis and Presentations – Each student will analyze the reporting on Muslims and Islam in a particular country. The 10-page paper, not including sources, will be presented in class, using PowerPoint.
  • Outside reporting – Each student will produce two (individual) stories, using his or her choice of format: print or online news article, television broadcast, NPR-like radio broadcast or Soundslides story.
  • Story Plans and Pitches – One of the basic skills journalists need is the ability to select and develop story ideas. This is often challenging for beginning journalists, so we will devote time in class to discussing possible stories and story treatments.
    • When students pick up equipment, they often think the equipment is the reporter. The camera or microphone is fine as a reporter’s tool, but if you rely on it to do the reporting for you, you’ll come back from an interview without the information you need for a good, solid news story. To help you avoid this pitfall, you will be required to submit a story plan that details the reporting before you cover your story. That means gathering facts, reading background information and making a plan.
    • I’ll provide you with a story plan form to help organize your thoughts and materials. Each plan will give you a chance to develop an idea, justify the story in solid journalistic terms, discuss visualization and contact sources. Your story plan must be typed and turned in. The plan will be graded and is due the week before your story is due. ALL story plans must be approved in advance.


There will be two tests on the readings, handouts, lecture materials and class discussion. There are NO make-ups allowed for missed tests.

Grade distribution

Your grade for this course will be divided as follows:

Interviews, Analysis, Story Plans                 45 percent

Two Stories                                                   30 percent

Tests                                                               20 percent

Weekly participation                                     5 percent

Grade guidelines

Assignments are a test of how well you understand the concepts and skills we will work on this semester. I will evaluate your assignments according to the following standards:

4.0 (93-100 percent): Excellent. Ready for publication. Fulfills or exceeds assignment requirements.

3.5 (87-92 percent): Very good. Almost ready for publication. Fulfills most of the requirements of the assignment, but there are minor errors in writing, reporting or editing techniques.

3.0 (80-86 percent): Good. Fulfills most of the requirements of the assignment, but there may be a significant error in writing, reporting or editing.

2.5 (75-79 percent): Average. Assignment completed, but there may be significant errors in writing, reporting or editing.

2.0 (70-74 percent): Below Average. Assignment completed, but the student has not grasped the concepts needed to master the assignment. Serious errors in writing, reporting or editing.

1.5 (65-69 percent): Poor. Assignment is not completed satisfactorily. The student has a poor understanding of the concepts required for this assignment. Serious errors in writing, reporting and editing.

1.0 (60-64 percent): Very Poor. Assignment completed but lacks fundamental reporting and writing skills. Consists of serious errors in writing, reporting and editing flaws.

0.5 (50-59 percent): Unacceptable.

0.0 (0-49 percent): Failure to complete or turn in assignment.


Course Schedule

Course Schedule Key

Ë In-class exercises or activities

ü Assign an exercise

” An exercise is due

è Readings


Wednesday, Sept. 2 Day One (Wednesday functions as Monday)

Ë Welcome to JRN 808!

Read syllabus.

Fill out grade sheets.


Discuss Web site: Journal/Islam – IMAJE (Islam, Muslims and Journalism Education). Discuss Lansing State Journal article “Web site to Educate Media on Islam.”

Ë Watch:×7Be4nQs

Skype Harumi Gondo (

Vox Pop Interviews (Voice of the People): What is Islam? Why are you taking this course?

Ë 250-word autobiography and quiz on Muslims and Islam

ü Assign Exercise: Choose a guest speaker to interview before his or her lecture. Research the speaker’s background and prepare five open-ended questions.

ü Assign Exercise: 10-page analysis and five-minute presentation on news coverage on Islam in one country. Use five stories published by one news media outlet.  You will analyze the text and contextual influences of the text. Analysis and presentation due Sept. 28.


Monday, Sept. 7 Labor Day – No Class


Monday, Sept. 14 Reporting on Religion; Islam and Religious Belief

Ë Tour the Islamic Center of East Lansing

Ë Guest Speaker: Barb Skelley, M.A. – “Co-Exist – Is it Possible?”

Ë 250-word autobiography and quiz on Muslims and Islam

è Reading: ANGEL –’s “Reporting on Religion: A Primer on Journalism’s Best Beat”


Monday, Sept. 21 Analysis of News Coverage: Show case studies;

Reporting on Islam

Ë Guest Speaker: Gregg Krupa of The Detroit News

è Reading: ANGEL – “Lessons” à “Reading Assignment Files àGregg Krupa, The Detroit News, favorite articles

è Reading: ANGEL – “Resources” à “Core Unit: Reporting on Islam” à Covering Islam by Judy Woodruff in American Journalism Review, 2002, p. 58A

è Reading: Covering Islam by Edward Said – Introduction


Monday, Sept. 28 Covering Islam in the Middle East, specifically Iraq and


Ë Watch: War Made Easy (Norman Soloman)

Ë Guest Speaker via Skype: Anthony Shadid, The Washington Post, received Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting – Iraq War in 2004

” Exercise Due: 10-page analysis and presentation of news coverage in one country. Post articles analyzed in Angel.

ü Assign Exercise: Story ideas and themes, planning the story and turning the idea into a visual story. Explain story plan and pitch.

è Reading:

Excerpts from Night Draws Near by Anthony Shadid


Monday, Oct. 5 American Muslim Civic Participation

Ë Guest Speaker: Imam Dawud Walid of CAIR-Mi

Ë Student Presentations:

Indonesia, Pakistan, India

Exercise Due: Story #1 story plan and pitch

è Reading: “Obama, McCain should condemn

Islamophobia” (op-ed) –

è Reading: “African American Muslims refute the clash of civilisations” (op-ed) –

è Reading: “Mali can teach Detroit a lot about community” (     op-ed) –

è Reading: “Terrorism is not part of Islam, speaker says at forum in Troy” (The Michigan Catholic) –


Monday, Oct. 12                  Images of Muslims: Stereotypes and Profiling. The Rise

and Spread of Islam

Ë Watch Orientalism (Said) 

Ë Guest Speaker: Professor Salah Hassan

Ë Student Presentations:

Bangladesh, Turkey, Egypt

Exercise Due: Rewrite of 10-page paper

è  Reading: Covering Islam by Edward Said – Chapter 1; Smearcasting


Monday, Oct. 19 Reporting the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Ë Guest Speaker: Marda Dunsky, instructor at DePaul University, author of Pens and Swords: How the American Mainstream Media Report the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Ë Student Presentations:

Nigeria, Iran, Algeria

Ë Test #1 Review

Exercise Due: Story #1

ü Assign Story #2

è  Reading: Chapters 1 and 2: Pens and Swords: How the American Mainstream Media Report the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict


Monday, Oct. 26 Muslims and Cultural Diversity

Ë Guest Speaker: David Crumm, Read The Spirit Web site, former religion reporter for Detroit Free Press

Ë Student Presentations:

Morocco, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia

Ë Midterm evaluations

Exercise Due: Story #2 story plan and pitch

” Test #1


Monday, Nov. 2 Contemporary Political Islam. U.S. Foreign Policy, the Global War on Terror and Fear of Islam. Alternatives to the Religious


Ë Guest Speaker: Professor Mohammed Ayoob

Ë Student Presentations:

Sudan, Iraq

Exercise Due: Story #1 rewrite

è Reading:’s Covering Islam & Politics, Covering Islam 101, Pre-Conference Session: Covering Islam held Sept. 2008, ReligionLink-Archives by Topic – Islam


Monday, Nov. 9                   Best Practices on Covering Islam and Muslim Peoples

Ë Guest Speaker: Joe Grimm, author of “100 Questions and Answers about Arab Americans”

Exercise Due: Story #2

ü Assign Exercise: Best Practices

è Reading: “100 Questions and Answers about Arab    Americans”

è Reading: Fighting Words: How Arab and American Journalists Can Break Through to Better Coverage. International Center for Journalists, Schnellinger & Khatib (2006)


Monday, Nov. 16 Muslims, Experts and Pundits. Gendered Issues

Ë Guest Speakers: Dr. Mounzer Kassab & Dr. Hend Azhary


Monday, Nov. 23 Islam in Central Asia

Ë Guest Speaker: Eric Freedman of the J-School (Pulitzer Prize winner while on The Detroit News)

Ë Test #2 Review

Exercise Due: Story #2 rewrite


Thursday, Nov. 26              Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, Nov. 30 Transnationalism and Islam

Ë Guest Speaker: Saeed Khan of Wayne State University

Monday, Dec. 7                   Last Day of Class

Ë Guest Speaker: Brian J. Bowe, MIS Ph.D. student, and Jonathan White, executive director of Grand Valley State University’s Homeland Defensive Initiative and one of the world’s foremost authorities on religious terrorism

Ë Vox Pop Interviews (Voice of the People) of Students – Follow up – What is Islam? What did you learn in this class?

” Test #2

è Reading:

è Reading:


Friday, Dec. 18                    Final Exam Meeting

” Optional: See me in my office to discuss your grade in this course