The chair of the Journalism Department teamed with School of Communications faculty members Julie Lellis, Doug Kass and Brooks Fuller to produce an introductory media writing textbook specific to the needs of the school’s students.
Anthony Hatcher takes pride in the fact that his new book, “Media Writing in the Digital Age,” was a collaborative effort with colleagues in the School of Communications.
It makes sense considering the 146-page textbook, published by Kendall Hunt in August, is tailor-made for the school’s COM 110 Media Writing course and similar introductory media writing classes at other colleges and universities. As lead author and chair of the Journalism Department, Hatcher edited the publication and penned chapters on journalism, interviewing and grammar. When Hatcher needed additional expertise to address topics related to strategic communications, cinema and media law, he enlisted his fellow Elon faculty members.
That led to Professor Julie C. Lellis authoring a chapter on strategic writing, Associate Professor Doug Kass writing a chapter about film script coverage, and Assistant Professor Brooks Fuller delving into the essentials of media law.
“This is truly an Elon-produced book and I am very proud of the teamwork that went into it,” Hatcher said. “All three are friends and could not have been easier to work with. And we collaborated well.”
The book’s publication concludes a process that began more than four years ago, when Kendall Hunt first approached Hatcher about publishing a text specific to the School of Communications’ introductory media writing course and its students.
“The concept was that we needed a book not just for any media writing class but for Elon’s media writing class because it serves – and is required of – all of our communications majors,” Hatcher said.
Initially, Hatcher declined Kendall Hunt’s overtures due to his availability, and he was still wrapping up his 2018 book, “Religion and Media in America,” exploring how Christianity adapts to and is affected by new media forms. Eventually, he relented and recruited support from Lellis and Kass.
Coming into the project, Hatcher sought to address the student feedback he often heard about Elon’s Media Writing course, specifically that it was too journalism oriented. The professor wanted to appeal to a wider audience – i.e., not just journalism majors – while also continuing to impart strong writing skills. “Because everybody who goes through our programs needs to know how to write,” he pointed out.
Hatcher commended Lellis for her chapter that examines current practices in strategic writing and public relations, drawing upon her own experiences and recent research. Lellis discussed what clients and audiences expect from strategic writers, while offering best practices for attracting and engaging readers. She published her own book in 2017 on how businesses can correct poor communication behaviors.
Likewise, Kass, an award-winning filmmaker, explored script coverage and how to read a speculative screenplay to evaluate its quality and viability. Hatcher admitted that initially he knew little about script analysis and was riveted by his colleague’s insights.
“Doug provides a wonderful account of how to read a script and look for character development and plot – as well as commercial potential – in a screenplay,” Hatcher said. “I think the chapter will be useful for anyone who is thinking of becoming a filmmaker. It’s a good primer on not just how to read a script, but also to read any narrative and analyze it – to summarize it for someone.
“To my knowledge, no other entry-level media writing textbook has a chapter like that.”
Hatcher was very intentional in keeping the book’s audience – first-year students – in mind and keeping the focus on writing. In his chapters, the former journalist hit on a myriad of topics, such as the basic principles of reporting news and interviewing skills, as well as how to write feature stories, profiles and obituaries.
Always the writer, Hatcher enjoyed adding content about grammar, language usage, spelling, AP style and even some math for non-math people. He feels the textbook is a great supplement to the content taught in the university’s Writing – Argument and Inquiry course, part of Elon’s Core Curriculum.
“Students are expected to be able to write at Elon, and this is a reinforcement on the rules,” Hatcher said. “I focus on grammar, word usage, being concise – making sure you aren’t using four words when one will do.”
Feedback during the book’s peer review process was positive, but one common recommendation arose: the text needed a media law chapter. After some thought, Hatcher agreed, but he wanted the chapter to be digestible for his audiences of 18- and 19-year-olds.
Hatcher utilized one of the advantages at his disposal – the school is home to the North Carolina Open Government Coalition – and asked Fuller to contribute a few thoughts on media law. The coalition’s director went above and beyond, supplying pages of notes highlighting open records and open meetings, and current thinking on the First Amendment and freedom of speech.
“Brooks came forward with this wonderful, concise, relatable, understandable piece that we incorporated,” Hatcher said. “I’m grateful he took the time to offer his expertise.”
As the book drew closer to its publication, Hatcher again went back his Elon network for ideas on the book’s cover. He asked Communications Manager Tommy Kopetskie – this release’s author – to find a way to incorporate the book’s many topics into a single image. They hashed out a few concepts before deciding to use an overhead shot of Elon senior Sophie Ortiz working on her laptop surrounded by materials and equipment communications majors know well.
This semester Elon students have already become familiar with the inside of Hatcher’s new book thanks to Elma Sabo. The journalism lecturer assigned the text to her three sections of COM 110 this fall and the feedback has been favorable.
Reid Dahill ’23, a Communications Fellow, gave the book high marks for its straightforward structure and easy to understand content.
“Chapter 3, ‘Defining News and Journalism,’ especially stood out to me,” the cinema and television arts major said. “The content is delivered in a clear way and it is easy to remember the information.”
To order “Media Writing in the Digital Age,” visit the Kendall Hunt’s website.