Classes | Columbia Journalism School

Classes

Please note: The classes listed here represent recent offerings at the Journalism School. These include M.S., M.S. in Data Journalism and M.A. courses. Choices vary each semester depending on faculty availability and other considerations. Classes described now may change or be dropped to make room for new additions. We cannot promise that students will gain a seat in any specific class.

800 Words

Newspapers may be shrinking but the most versatile, durable, readable literary form they gave us – the column – is flourishing, although it has migrated beyond the traditional borders of print and often travels under different names now. The column – 800 words of story, voice, idea and opinion, in varying proportions according to the occasion – has always been the three-minute pop song of our business, the marquee form of journalism, and it has become an essential building block of the Web: the blog, the posting, the musing, the reflection, the anecdote, the kind of brief essay that requires minimal scrolling. 

So how can we get better at this form, this length, regardless of the medium through which it reaches readers? What can we learn from the great columnists, past and present, that will bring more authority and poetry to our work, whether on the Web or in print? How can we bring more reporting, more substance, to a form that in its latest incarnation often strays too far from the ethics and practices of its roots in print? How can we shape a narrative arc in a narrow space? In a world that has come to value voice so highly, how can we make our voices more rigorous, fluent, persuasive and concise? In this class, you’ll read a wide range of work, from the earliest newspaper columnists to the latest bloggers, and you’ll write, and then rewrite, four columns of your own – four 800-word stories of varying subject, tone and purpose.

Algorithms

Machine learning and data science are integral to processing and understanding large data sets. Whether you're clustering schools or crime data, analyzing relationships between people or businesses, or searching for a needle in a haystack of documents, algorithms can help. Students will generate leads, create insights, and evaluate how to best focus their efforts with large data sets. Topics will include building and managing servers, linear regression, clustering, classification, natural language processing, and tools such as scikit-learn and Mechanical Turk.

Audio I

This course teaches fundamental and advanced techniques of field reporting and writing in audio or radio media. Emphasis is on writing clearly and conversationally, with integration of recorded voices and natural sound. Students will pitch, report, write and produce compelling, public radio style pieces, including newscasts, news stories, features and interviews. They will be trained in state-of-the-industry recording equipment and editing software. Students will receive detailed, one-on-one editing and will publish their work in on-demand digital audio formats. The writing and technical skills taught in this course are intended to serve students well in any medium.

This class (or Audio II for students with prior experience) is a prerequisite for those interested in pitching a full audio master’s project.

Multiple instructors teach sections of this class.

Book Writing

This seminar teaches students to prepare a book proposal, including an overview essay and a sample chapter, both at least 4,000 words long. Each student must enter the class with sufficient material from elsewhere or an idea that can be researched in the New York area. Students will not be permitted to use their Master’s Project for this seminar. Coursework ranges from intensive study of literary nonfiction and journalistic fiction, with related writing assignments on a weekly basis, to instruction in the techniques of reporting, writing extended narrative and producing a book proposal. Guest speakers from the publishing industry appear frequently. Enrollment is limited with the approval of the instructor. Interested students should attend the information session where the application process will be discussed.

Business and Economic Reporting

Money and power go hand-in-hand, never more so than now. A basic understanding of business and economics can help students in any line of journalism, from sports to fashion, from politics to investigations that follow the money trail. This seminar examines the economy and financial markets and gives students the tools to better understand and write about them. We will look at globalization and income inequality; Trump’s tariff wars; andstock and bond markets. We’ll learn how to read annual reports and financial statements and get a better understanding of financial regulations. By the end of the semester, students should be comfortable when faced with numbers and learn how stories can be strengthened when a financial angle is pursued. Students will read current and historic business stories, with an eye towards seeing what makes them stand out. Assignments will include one semester-long project and several shorter, deadline stories. Several class sessions will include guest speakers from major business and general-interest news organizations.

Business and Financial News

This course will focus on covering breaking news in business, the financial markets and the economy. Students will learn the basics of business and financial news coverage, including how to make breaking news stories lively, colorful, interesting and relevant for readers. They will learn how to write clearly and accurately under deadline. They will learn how to spot the most important news in seemingly impenetrable press releases and jargon-heavy government announcements. They will learn how to anticipate news and how to include a forward spin to breaking-news stories. They will learn how to use timelines, bullet boxes and other forms of journalistic art to illustrate stories. We will be joined occasionally by journalists who will tell us how they reported and wrote major stories under deadline pressures. Time permitting, we will tour at least one major news organization where we will meet reporters and editors.

China Seminar

In the years and decades ahead, China will powerfully shape the world both in ways that are already becoming evident and in others as yet still unexpected. If you are interested in global reporting, wherever you come from and whatever region of the world you wish to report on, having a nuanced grasp of a fast-changing and dynamic China will be indispensable to writing smartly about international affairs.

This course aims to deepen students' understanding of China and sharpen the ways we think and write about the country as journalists. The seminar-style class involves wide and eclectic readings about China, which may include works of reportage, political science, history, sociology, business and economics and culture. Guest speakers will also be drawn from a range of areas of expertise and background. The course requires that students read current coverage of China from a variety of leading Western and (in translation) Chinese media. A portion of each class will be set aside for a running comparative examination of this coverage.

Written assignments will consist of off-the-news, deeply and collaboratively reported articles by students on current events, with a rich variety of voices drawn from both China and abroad. Students should expect to receive regular, careful editing of their work, along with feedback on writing and reporting.

Students who have little or no past exposure to China are welcome, as are students with prior experience in China and of course Chinese students, as well. Whatever your background there will be plenty to stimulate and engage you.

City Newsroom

The students in City Newsroom will cover all of New York City. They’ll operate, manage, edit, and contribute to an award-winning live news site: http://NYCityLens.com/. The course is set up to give students hands-on experience running a news site, and to hone their storytelling skills in pitching, reporting and producing ambitious stories in all formats. Students will cover breaking news, develop features, dig into deeper stories, create digital graphics, and shoot and edit videos. Its goal: to let students cover stories in the medium best suited to tell a particular story. We will focus on all kinds of New York City stories, including breaking news, crime and justice, culture and art, New York’s immigrant population, and politics and policy. Students will pitch stories every week, perfecting their pitching skills. We expect everyone in the newsroom to produce a specific number of stories: eight print stories or five videos or a to-be-determined combination of these. Each student, as part of a team, will also be responsible for covering breaking news for an assigned number of weeks. In addition, students will have the option to work as a team to produce a special report

Computational Journalism

This course unpacks the ways in which data, code and algorithms are reshaping systems of power in the world, training students to be better reporters and to hold the people and institutions behind these systems accountable. This critical view is made possible through rigorous training in data and computing, preparing students to use these tools in an expanded reporting practice that finds and tells new kinds of stories. Our main programming language for the class willl be Python. Each week, students will read and analyze examples of data and computing in service of journalism; and each week we will dig deeper into the technical skills behind such stories with small coding assignments that mix story and technology. The course will end with a final project, an "act of journalism," that might be a story, a data visualization or a new data set or algorithm.

The course is not simply introducing a new web framework for pulling data from a PDF, or a even a new programming language. Instead, we aspire to a rich kind of literacy around data and computing. By “literacy” we mean a trio of concepts – a functional literacy that prepares students to be creative with data and computing; a critical literacy that encourages students to think about data and computing as cultural artifacts; and a rhetorical literacy that highlights the persuasive power inherent in any technology and that casts system design as a social, rather than a purely technical, act. The course will add a uniquely journalistic voice, one that responds to the needs and talents of reporters and helps them find and tell stories in new ways.

Our goals in teaching this course are simple: 1) provide journalists with hands-on experience collecting, processing and analyzing data, 2) demystify the tools and methods behind computing, 3) supply sufficient background so that students might become creators of new technologies, transitioning from tool users to tool makers, and, perhaps most importantly, 4) teach students how to use data and computing, as both sources for finding stories, as well as platforms for telling new kinds of stories.

As mentioned above, our main programming language will be Python, however, we assume NO PRIOR CODING OR DATA KNOWLEDGE. All we ask is that you bring the same journalistic curiosity you have learned in the first half of the program to these new ways of storytelling. We'll take care of the rest.

Covering American Politics

The purpose of this course is to equip students to cover American politics and elections in original, lively and sophisticated ways. The course will combine instruction in the subject matter and structure of American politics with workshops on specialized reporting and writing methods. We will enrich our knowledge by studying the history of populism; the quasi-science of public opinion polling; shifts in the Electoral College during recent presidential elections; and voter issues such as gun violence and inequality. At the same time, we will workshop political reporting and storytelling methods, such as the art of the political profile; how to interview politicians effectively; and how to investigate candidates’ biographies.

We intend to take advantage of the 2020 election season, which should be in full chaos throughout our spring course, to plug ourselves directly into the challenges of reporting on President Trump, his Democratic opposition and the country’s polarized electorate during a season of heightened excitement. We will recruit guest speakers from the front lines of campaign reporting and from inside political campaigns. Our assignments will ask students to plunge into the fray themselves.

With some exceptions, classes will be divided into two parts: A session on some aspect of the substance of American politics, followed by a workshop on some aspect of political reporting or storytelling. In addition to preparing for and sometimes leading workshop sessions, each student will complete three assignments: 1) A spot story of a campaign event or rally, written on deadline; 2) an interview with a current candidate, edited into a lively Q&A; and 3) in pairs, an enterprise story of at least 2000 words profiling an intriguing individual or institution in one of the counties of Pennsylvania that voted twice for President Obama in 2008 and 2012; then voted for President Trump in 2016; and that are now hotly prized in the 2020 cycle.

Covering Climate: Story & Animation

Students in this class will learn how to report on the many stories of climate change. They will learn the underlying science—gaining skills and techniques they can apply to reporting on science and environmental issues generally. And they will learn how to think about and explore the many ways climate intersects with nearly every aspect of global society, including health, psychology, immigration, and infrastructure. Students will write several stories, largely focusing on New York City and the region. At the same time, they will develop the skills needed to produce a visually compelling narrative, using Adobe software such as Photoshop, Premiere Pro, and After Effects. They will learn elements of design and visual presentation as they create an animated piece that will be the capstone of the semester. Climate change is the story of the century. This course will help students learn how to cover it correctly, comprehensively, and creatively.

Covering Education & Data Reporting

The course combines diving into the rich landscape of education reporting and writing with in-depth data training in tandem with Brown Institute instructors. Each student will embed for the semester inside a New York City public middle, elementary or high school, cultivating sources, ideas, and knowledge. Seminar time will be devoted to history, ethics, ideas and debate with experts and working reporters in this expansive beat that can encompass policy, culture, inequity, youth justice and the science of learning, for starters. Students will write news, narrative features, an original long form story, as well as complete an ambitious data-focused group project on a topic to be decided. Data instructors will work directly with the class in the last half of the semester. NO PRIOR DATA KNOWLEDGE NECESSARY.

The aim is to publish on our class websites as well as with our partner news organizations: NYC Chalkbeat, the New York Daily News,and others.

Students in the course may qualify for a paid internship for the Hechinger Report. 

Covering Issues of Gender and Sexuality

Take a look at the homepage of any major American daily almost any day, and you’ll find headlines like: “Miscarrying at Work: The Physical Toll of Pregnancy Discrimination” or “#WontBeErased: Transgender People and Allies Mobilize Against Trump Administration Proposal.” We are living in times in which issues of gender and sexuality are contentious matters that need clear and sober journalistic coverage. In this course, students will examine historical and theoretical frameworks for understanding gender and sexuality and will analyze how media practices shape public perception. They will engage in discussion with journalists covering these issues. And they will learn how to become sensitive, thorough, and contextual reporters on these topics, developing skills and insights that can inform and improve coverage of any beat.

Covering Race

This course is an examination of one of the most salient themes in American life and the ways in which it informs our contemporary realities as well as its implications for media and reporting. Thus a grounding in race is a key perspective for the journalist writing in or about the United States. Objective: The student will gain greater insight into the central debates and formative influence of race in American society and its implications for reportage and media discussion of the subject.

Covering Religion

Covering Religion aims at preparing students to write about religion with depth, sensitivity and sophistication. This year, the seminar will focus on the diversity of religious faiths found in the American South. Thanks to a generous grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation, the course will include a weeklong study-tour of the region at no cost to students. The study-tour will take place over spring break.In addition to reporting and writing assignments, each student will make an oral presentation in class about the coverage of his or her faith beat. While still in New York, students will select and begin to report on the stories that they want to cover while traveling. Upon their return, students will write and produce the stories that they worked on while traveling. This course is open by application only to all MS students, both part-time and full-time.

Follow the covering religion blog to learn about the places where we've traveled.

Criticism Workshop

 From competition among tragedies in Ancient Greek festivals to flame-wars over the latest Kendrick Lamar track, works of art and entertainment seem always to live (or die) amid a public debate about their merits and flaws. Writers of serious criticism both join the fray and stay above (or get beneath) it, considering what a work does, how it does it, what it means, and why it matters. In this seminar, we bring such questions to bear as we work on writing criticism with authority and eloquence. Through extensive reading of historical and contemporary criticism, and weekly, closely edited writing assignments of various shapes and sizes-- from the 250-word blog post to the 1500-word think-piece-- students work on developing engaging and persuasive essays expressing their considered judgment. 

Data & Databases

Students will become familiar with a variety of data formats and methods for storing, accessing and processing information. Topics covered include comma-separated documents, interaction with web site APIs and JSON, raw-text document dumps, regular expressions, SQL databases, and more. Students will also tackle less accessible data by building web scrapers and converting difficult-to-use PDFs into useable information.

Data I

This course teaches students how to evaluate and analyze data for appropriateness, context and meaning. Students leave the class knowing how to apply basic statistical methods to numerical data sets. They will also learn how to obtain, clean and load various types of commonly encountered data. They will be drilled on devising interesting, thoughtful and answerable questions to ask of data sets. They will also be taught how to translate the results of their data analysis into clear and concise findings. Visualization in this course will be used primarily for data analysis and story formation, not publication.

Data II

This course is designed to give students who have taken and passed (and hopefully enjoyed) an introductory course on Statistics a more advanced treatment of the process of storytelling with data. This includes: Frameworks and tools for finding, accessing, manipulating and publishing data (APIs, various databases, and some techniques for data "cleaning"); simulation-based approaches to statistical inference when data have special designs (surveys, A/B testing); "models" for data and the stories they tell (regression, trees); and advanced tools for visualization (to explore both data, the effects of data processing, and models). Throughout we will emphasize best practices for documenting your code and analysis ("showing your work").

Data Specialization Workshop

This class is designed to provide students the foundational data and computational skills that will allow them to pursue data-driven stories. Through in-class class instruction, drills and discussion with guest speakers innovating in the field of data journalism, students can refine their skills and be inspired to develop ideas for stories that exist on the frontiers of professional journalism. The workshop will also act as a space for students to discuss and further develop their Master’s projects.

Data Visualization

This course will provide students with hands-on skills in the area of data journalism and information visualization. The class will be project-based, with students working in teams to develop data journalism stories and the accompanying information visualizations. In the process, we will cover a range of data retrieval and analysis tools, as well as current approaches to information visualization from a variety of disciplines. 

Data, Computation, Innovation Workshop I

Students will explore cutting-edge computational and data-oriented forms of storytelling. Through class discussion, guest speakers who are innovating in the field of journalism, and experimentation with novel applications and technologies, students will refine skills they have developed to produce works that exist on the frontiers of professional journalism. The workshop will also act as a space for students to discuss and further develop their final Master’s projects.

Data, Computation, Innovation Workshop II

This course builds on the material from the fall semester workshop and will proceed in similar fashion, with a focus on developing the students’ abilities to tell journalistic stories with data, computation, and new technologies. Throughout the course they will be encouraged to hone fundamental skills such as data analysis and visualization, but they will also explore the potential for emerging tools like sensors, drones, and virtual/augmented reality through workshops and guest lectures. This semester will be paced and organized differently from the fall workshop, which was largely focused on developing one substantial project. This semester, students will be expected to produce work at a faster pace, but the work will be no less rigorous and polished. 

Deadline Writing

Do you want to be a foreign correspondent? Cover the courts? Write magazine features? No matter what your aspirations, the ability to put together an accurate, clearly written story on deadline is essential to achieving your goals. Working on deadline is equal parts mindset and technique. Both can be acquired with practice and you’ll get lots of it in this class. You’ll write at least one story a week and will get detailed guidance and feedback throughout the process. Assignments will replicate the sorts of deadline stories you would be likely to cover for a mainstream media organization – live events, second-day stories and short features. You will have the opportunity to cover stories from your Reporting class beats, thus building on the sources you developed in the first half of the semester. In class, we will brainstorm story ideas and angles and discuss strategies for reporting and writing when the clock is ticking. You’ll learn to turn deadline anxiety into adrenaline, to produce standout stories – and to have fun in the process.