Students' assignment as a piece of economics journalism

Contact: Judith Piggott
Principal Lecturer in Economics, Oxford Brookes University
jmpiggott@brookes.ac.uk
Published August 2002

This assignment was set for a one term module on International Trade (2nd and 3rd year undergraduate students, mainly in Economics but some in European Business). The idea was to set the students a task which could be seen as relevant to their studies but also relevant to what was going on around them - the "real world".

The assignment was set in October 2001 and was handed in the day before the WTO Doha meeting started.

The Assignment

There is continual talk about the new round of world trade talks to be set up by the World Trade Organization (and there is much talk about these being set up in the Qatar meeting in November 2001). The Economist has published a number of articles commenting on the difficulties of actually setting up and preparing an agenda for these talks - difficulties which actually started in the meeting in Seattle in 1999.

It has now decided to publish a definitive article which will set out

You have been asked to write it.

The article should be

You should do your own research in the library and via articles on CD Rom (not only the Economist's articles), however just to start you off, the Editor has provided a list of four articles (remember she has read these already, so your article should be significantly different!) - however keep your eyes open because there will be loads more soon in the press.

The Economist (1999) "The new trade war" 4 December pp 55-56
The Economist (1999) "Who needs the WTO?" 4 December pp 116
The Economist (1999) "After Seattle: A global disaster" 11 December pp 21-22
The Economist (2000) "The Merit of Trading Quietly" 12 August pp 19-20

In order for the article to be published, it must be in by Friday 9th November 2001 at 2pm

Please note - all the films you have seen with tough newspaper editors, ARE TRUE - this Editor will NOT accept any articles handed in after 2pm (this is the time we go to press and anything after is TOO LATE!). The only exception would be if she has been contacted BEFORE the hand in time and an extension agreed on - but very good reasons will be expected.

Please attach the feedback sheet (the last sheet of the module guide) to your work.
The marking criteria for this assignment are given on the grid shown on this feedback sheet.

Note: the WTO situation is real, but the rest is fictional (ie the Editor of the Economist is not looking to publish this article)".

  1. what items should be put on the agenda of a new round of trade talks (and who wants these on the agenda),
  2. why, and
  3. the problems likely to be met in the discussions (with those inside, rather than outside the meeting i.e. not with the protestors but the countries within the WTO).
    1. a maximum of 2,000 words in length (otherwise the Editor will be forced to take a red pen to the article and stop reading at the 2,000 limit); word count must be included in the work,
    2. should be properly referenced throughout (the Editor insists on this),
    3. needs a "punchy" headline and possibly sub-headline (the latter is optional) of no more than 5 words for main and 8 for sub.

Comments

The assignment was generally handled well although there were no outstanding pieces of work. Amazingly there were only a couple of imaginative headlines (and one appalling pun!). The External Examiner commented that he felt it was an imaginative and innovative assignment and was surprised the students had not particularly followed in the same imaginative style.

There were two cases of plagiarism from the same BBC website, and there were some styles of writing totally inappropriate to "The Economist". Most students however did anticipate the Doha discussion well and many commented they found it interesting to work on something "in the news". In the student feedback at the end of the course, most commented they had found the assignment "challenging and interesting".

A similar format is being used this year but the topic changed to the steel dispute between the US and EU (and others). Students are being asked the following questions - to write an article "clearly setting out:

  1. a brief historical background to the dispute (up to and including 5th March action)- then
  2. why the US has imposed the sanctions and
  3. why the EU and others are strongly objecting to the US action
  4. an evaluation of the positions taken by the US and EU (and others) and an explanation of which position you think is economically justifiable
  5. what has happened since 5th March 2002 and what might happen over the next year"

Other changes made include a suggestion that students look at a few Economist articles to get "the style" and they will be told they will be marked down if the style is inappropriate (Economist articles had been used in the seminars last year but the question of writing style was not made explicit in the marking criteria).

This year the response to the assignment will be monitored more closely prior to the work being handed in and also after hand in (but before marks are distributed), to judge student response to the work.

Next: A follow-up