Media Writing Final Story and Exam
Your final exam will be a news feature story that addresses these
Was the American Dream more myth than reality? Is it
achievable today? Has the traditional dream been replaced
by a new version?
As you research the topic, other questions will present
No rough drafts are required, nor will they be accepted.
Exams submitted past the deadline time will be subject to a
10-point deduction. No exams will be accepted later than
the deadline day unless you have received written
permission to submit after the due date. As with all course
work, cite your sources within the text. No citations page is
required or needed.
The story of between 1,350 and 1,450 words will be based on
seven to ten interviews and onlineresearch
Your central task is to combine interviews with research and
take stock of the American Dream.
Your interviews and research must respond to the
The website Investopedia offers a good, traditional definition:
Understanding the American Dream
The term was coined by writer and historian James Truslow
Adams in his best-selling 1931 book “Epic of America.” He
described it as “that dream of a land in which life should be better
and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each
according to ability or achievement.” He went on to explain, “It is
a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret
adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and
mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages
merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each
woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they
are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they
are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or
However, was the American Dream real for all Americans? Or
was it meant for European-Americans, more commonly known
as white Americans?
For most black Americans, Latinos, and Asian immigrants the
dream was effectively out of reach. Jim Crow laws and a strong
culture of racism marginalized non-whites.
So, for millions of Americans, the dream was a myth or a goal
that only could be achieved by European-Americans.
My family offers a useful example. Jesus Chavira, my great
grandfather came to West Texas from Mexico alone and as a 14-
year-old orphan in 1870.
He began his working life as a stable boy at the Fort Davis
Cavalry fort. Jesus later worked as a cowboy for white ranchers
until he was able to amass enough cattle to have his ranch. His
was a hard, spartan life.
My grandfather Jose Chavira, Jesusâ€™s eldest child, was born in
West Texas in 1896. He was, of course, a citizen, but because
he was of Mexican blood, Jose was refused admission to the only
school where he lived. So, he was illiterate for life. He was a
manual laborer until he retired. My grandmother Maria also was
denied an education, so she cleaned houses and later hospital
rooms until she retired.
Maria and Jose even picked cotton for 10 years. They took
three vacations during their lifetime. My grandparents, for all
their extremely hard work, died poor. They left behind only a
few hundred dollars.
Then there is the story of my parents.
They were born in El Paso, Texas in the 1920s and were
required to attend segregated schools. So, they could not enroll
in schools set aside for whites. They grew up in exclusively
Mexican neighborhoods thanks to residential segregation.
After high school graduation, they could only dream of a college
education. Neither had the money to pay college tuition nor did
their parents. So, my father joined the U.S. Army in 1940. He
and my mother were married in 1943.
My father faced intense racism in seeking jobs that would pay
him enough to support a family. He thought his high school
educationâ€”in 1940 only half of American adults had high school
diplomasâ€”and his five years of military service would give him
an advantage in the job market. It was not to be.
Our family grew up poor in Los Angeles. I was the first to earn a
four-year degree. My parents did not have the money to pay for
my education, so I worked my way through Cal State Long Beach
and then paid expenses required to get through graduate school.
Through years of hard work, I achieved the coveted American
Dream. But living that dream life was forever a daunting
challenge, demanding unrelenting hard work and sacrifice.
Even now at age 70, I still work teaching this class.
Then there are immigrant success stories. I had a few great
aunts and uncles who started businesses and grew wealthy.
But they were the rare exceptions.
If you talk to lots of European-Americans you will soon learn that
they typically secured the American Dream, complete with uppermiddle-class perks, such as a fancy house, substantial income,
exotic vacations, and college for their kids.
What your interviewees share with youâ€”their experiences, their
views, and their hopesâ€”will form your storyâ€™s core. The research
will buttress the interviews.
What is that the American Dream many seek today? Do they
even aim to achieve it? Is what they want is simply to be the
best person they can and pursue a lifestyle of their choice?
For many Millenials and even younger Americans, the dream
has become less about money and material possessions, and
more about achieving personal and professional goals.
So, to some extent, the traditional American Dream is dead or
no longer the goal.
What made the traditional, materialistic American Dream elusive
for so many?
There is little question that the depression sparked by the 2020
coronavirus pandemic and the 2008 recession were major
factors in putting the dream out of reach for millions. These
economic crises marked the bleakest time in American recent
history since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It is not
surprising that they ushered in a new economic reality.
The virus pandemic has brought with it one of the most severe
economic downturns in recent American history. Millions have
been left jobless. The economy has been hit so hard, that not
even economists can predict when the nationâ€™s health will be
improved. No doubt, some of the people that you interview will
have been affected economically.
In the wake of economic turmoil, many even questioned the
value of a college degree. What is the degreeâ€™s value if the job
market is bleak?
Nonetheless, the United States remains the number one
destination for immigrants. The promise of the American Dream
for many of them is very much alive and still achievable.
Weâ€™ve posted suggested interview questions, but in brief, your
interviews should show if your interviewee believes he or she has
achieved the American Dream and is enjoying its fruits today.
Your interviewee may not aspire to the traditional dream, but
rather his or her own interpretation. Depending on your
intervieweeâ€™s age, you will want to determine if he or she has
hopes of reaching the dream.
Has your interviewee suffered from the effects of the recessions?
If so, how? Is he or she doing well today? Does he or she feel
optimistic, pessimistic, or uncertain about the future?
Your first step is to conduct a bit of online research. That will
provide the foundation and background for the story.
Your reporting, however, should include research on the
American Dream and the economy. Several news reports and
studies have been posted.
They provide superb background and may even be cited, but
sparingly, please. Do not make the mistake of recycling the posted
research into your story. You are expected to research the topic.
Your next step is to talk to a good cross-section of people about
the American Dream.
This is not an academic paper, but rather a current portrait of how
people feel about the American Dream and, by extension, how the
country is doing and likely to fare. That will be your focus.
Donâ€™t make this a story that dwells on what happened, but rather
on the current situation and how people view todayâ€™s dream and
what the future might hold.
Thus, take care to chat with professionals, blue-collar
workers, students, old people, maybe even someone younger
than you. Your seven to ten interviews do not need to
exceptionally long; approximately 15 minutes is a good estimate.
In writing, be mindful of not starting your story in a classic
academic fashion, with loads of data only to introduce your first
interview subject after several paragraphs.
Keeping your focus on people is the most effective way to tell this
story. Remember, you are trying to attract readers. Be sure to
press for anecdotes. They will provide illustrativedetail.
The most effective way to write this story is by organizing it
thematically. Your research and interviews will unearth themes:
The American Dreamâ€™s golden years, when anyone who worked
hard would achieve it; the classic success stories; immigrants who
came to these shores and struck it rich; those who left their
homeland onlyto fall short of the dream; younger Americans with
no realistic hope of acquiring the comfortable and secure middleclass life their parents enjoyed.
These themes ought to dictate your storyâ€™s organization.
Do not present interview summaries randomly. That would
produce a disorganized story with no narrative thread.
Neither should you have one interview followed one after another.
This is called â€œquote stackingâ€ and good writers avoid using this
approach. Having long sections of quotes detracts from you
telling the story.
Not all interviews will be of equal quality, so donâ€™t feel
compelled to use all of them. You may want to use a small piece
of an interview. High-quality interviews, on the other hand,
should figure prominently in your story. In some instances, you
should paraphrase what an interviewee tells you.
You are likely to find this among the more interesting
assignments of your academic career. This story will require a
good deal of work, so please do not wait until the very last
minute to start on it.
Set aside at least three days to conduct research and another
day-and-a-half to write and rewrite. The storyâ€™s quality will to a
large extent depend on the quality of the interviews. Hurried
interviews will be superficial. The same is true of research.
Donâ€™t underestimate the time needed to produce quality
work. If you do, your story and course grade will suffer.
**Important Requirement: At the end of your story, please list
the names and contact information for all your interviewees. Be
sure before the interview that your interviewees are willing to
provide this information. If they are not, then select someone else
to interview. Failure to include this information will result in
a ten-point deduction. Consult with us as much as you would like
on any aspect of this project. The goal is to ensure your final story
is the very best it can be.
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