Classes | Page 2 | 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.

Documentary Specialization Seminar

This seminar has two primary objectives: to acquaint you with the aesthetics, ethics and traditions of documentaries, and to prepare you to make your own short, nonfiction film. To accomplish this, we will be studying, watching and dissecting lots of docs. And you will undertake a series of exercises and workshops on shooting, organizing, editing, budgeting, archive use and outreach.

Open only to students in the M.S. Documentary Program.

 

Evidence and Inference

This fall course, taken by the entire M.A. class, teaches a disciplined “journalistic method” of testing assumptions and making sure that reporting firmly proves its points. Students develop useful skills for working with statistics, using academic research and conducting in-depth interviews. They are also taught to carefully combine anecdote and narrative with the big picture in their writing.

Feature Journalism: Writing True Stories

Journalists are, at the core, storytellers. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion once wrote. Journalists tell stories to add shape and meaning to the news, to public policy and to world events. The art and craft of writing those stories will be the focus of this class. We will work on cultivating your ideas; honing your descriptive skills; finding the right tone, the right words and the right structure. No amount of lovely writing can paper-over anemic reporting. We will learn about using interviews, observation, documents and data – all in service to the story. Finally, good writers are even better readers. So we will read everything from fiction to ethnography to some of the best non-fiction narrative journalists. Our goal will be to try and break the codes of writers like Kate Boo, Alex Kotlowitz, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Mark Twain, Carson McCullers, Isabel Wilkerson, Phillip Lopate, Sonia Nazario and William Langewiesche.

The true textbook for the course will be your work. Come prepared with a pre-approved idea or three, something you are hungry to know more about. It can be a story that jumps off the news, a story about the collision of public policy and people or an issue that can be brought to life. You will rewrite several times, submitting your drafts to editing, overhauling and polishing by your instructor and fellow classmates. By the course’s end you should emerge with a significant story of publishable quality, one that strives to mix discipline with magic.

Feature Writing

This class is designed to add heft to your writing toolbox. To do that, we’ll examine stories by well-established journalists and by you and your classmates; we’ll analyze what works in those pieces, what doesn’t and why. We’ll discuss structure, narrative, pace, context and character. You’ll practice capturing scenes and collecting relevant detail. You’ll practice sharpening a story’s focus – and then practice using that to determine what belongs in the piece and what does not. You’ll learn to identify flabby and imprecise writing and become more adept at self-editing.

That’s a lot to cover in a few weeks so arrive on Day One with several solid story ideas – or pitch them to me a week or two before the course begins so you can start pursuing a good tale from the start. You’ll work on one main story for this class, drafting and re-drafting it as you report more deeply and apply the skills you learn in class. It’s in the rewriting that the best learning (and best magic) often happens.

Feature Writing

Feature writing is a balancing act between information and narrative; reporting and the writer’s voice; news and what catches your eye. Walk in the door with an overheated curiosity and we’ll turn that into diverse and surprising stories.

You’ll learn how to think like a feature writer – to find local stories on your block or give a large, unwieldy issue a human face and focus. You’ll expand your interview skills and discover how to improve and refine your writer’s voice.

You’ll write one or two features, depending on length, read each other’s work and learn the fine art of revision. We’ll examine the digital component of features as well and discuss how best to use these tools to enhance a story.

We’ll work through the steps that lead from idea to final draft; you’ll learn to conceptualize, pitch, and develop a compelling and well-reported story. On a practical level, this is the logical place to figure out how to apply your reporting skills to your master's project.

Feature writing is a rewarding stretch – a chance to experience the particular pleasure of telling a great story that just happens to be true.

We’ll read an array of examples, analyze what works and identify pitfalls and solutions. We’ll deconstruct stories to see how the writers built them and have the chance to discuss that process with at least one guest speaker. Previous years’ speakers have included The New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize winners John Branch and Amy Harmon and The New Yorker’s John Colapinto.

Food Writing

The food beat is a varied one that includes stories about culture and family, public policy, health and science, immigration, business, and climate and sustainability. This course introduces you to the myriad ways you can report on what we eat, whether it's a story on the sudden influx of decent tortillas in a neighborhood full of recent immigrants or a feature on a farmer who's growing what she hopes will be the next kale, a trendy vegetable that helps her to sustain her business.

For the first time, we will collaborate this year on a project that we plan to publish in The New Food Economy, the non-profit digital newsroom where Prof. Stabiner is an editor. NFE staff members, including managing editor Jesse Hirsch and senior editors and specialists in audience engagement and production, will be part of the process.

Food journalism requires vigorous reporting and offers the opportunity for observational work; it supports the feature writer as well as the investigative or data-driven journalist. The best work also gets published on our class website, linked below, including a class project called New York Sits Down to Dinner, a themed look at the evening meal. Last year's project told the stories of NYC's restaurant workers, and the year before that we tackled food insecurity in a city where one in five people isn't sure where dinner's coming from. We've also found out what dinner means for people with iconic jobs; a Broadway dancer, a carriage driver, a cabbie, and more. Students will contribute to What We Savor, a collection of first-person essays about food that nourishes both body and soul because it evokes strong personal memories.

Foundations of Computing

The course is an introduction to the ins and outs of programming and data analysis using the Python programming language, with which students will build a foundation for future coding-intensive classes and journalistic work. After this course, students will be able to find and execute solutions to most any coding- or data-related problem they encounter in the newsroom. The course focuses on cleaning and analysis using the Python programming language, the command line, Jupyter Notebooks, and the data package pandas.

Gender and Migration

Today, our world is witnessing a refugee crisis on a scale unprecedented since World War II, one that stretches from Asia and Africa to the Middle East and the Americas. It involves more women and girls than ever before and defies laws and policies aimed at containment. Waves of Central American families arriving at the United States’ southern border provide a vivid look at the array of forces — from poverty to crime and climate change  that are pushing people out of their homelands, and at why so many government responses, each one harsher than the last, have failed to deter them. Together with the editors at Documented, a website that publishes news about immigration in New York, we’ll report and write stories about how these dynamics are shaping policies, communities and lives across the city. We’ll look for ways to break new ground by dignifying individual migration stories, while exposing systemic forces at work on a range of subjects, including family separation and sexual exploitation; human trafficking and the business of immigrant detention; the tightening of the asylum system and ICE’s expansion.

Across the semester, you'll work on stories that teach you how to navigate a deeply polarized political landscape in order to accurately and fairly investigate the effects of immigration policies. You’ll learn strategies that will help you overcome cultural, linguistic, and logistical barriers in order to report migration stories with relevance, novelty, and style. You don’t need to be a lawyer to cover immigration, but you do need to have a working understanding of the laws, and where they came from, so that you know the difference between asylum and sanctuary cities, between TPS, VAWA, UACs and SIJS. This class will provide that understanding. In addition to the history of immigration laws, we’ll look at the root causes of our current global refugee crises; the gendered threats women and girls face along regular and irregular migration routes; the key hotspots for migrant abuse at home and abroad; and the ways that resilience, resourcefulness, and creative agency surface in migrants' stories.

This course is designed as a story-lab, with the intention of producing work that will be published by Documented. Most notably, you’ll be assigned to cover a specific immigration-related subject (filing updates each week) and work either individually or in teams to produce at least one feature or profile, and one investigative story about it. You’ll be responsible for preparing one oral presentation, either individually or in a group, about your area of expertise.

How to Cover Armies and Spies

Armies and intelligence services are among the most powerful and secretive of institutions, in democracies and authoritarian states alike. They are monopolists of the legitimate use of force, arbiters of war and peace and outsized consumers of national budgets. Covering militaries and spies well and revealingly is hard work that requires preparation and commitment. But it is vital journalism with a public purpose. And occasionally it is journalism that changes the world, from Sy Hersh’s My Lai massacre reporting to Abu Ghraib to Edward Snowden.

This course will prepare students to cover militaries and intelligence services, whether in the United States or abroad. We will take a broad approach, understanding security issues to include human rights, migration and the environment. We will review diverse sourcing strategies, durable story genres and professional and ethical conundrums on the beat. The intention is to equip students to take on defense, intelligence and related human rights reporting as a subject area for daily reporting, longform investigation or as a recurring part of a diversified career, with the understanding that the best sourcing in this field can require years to develop.

Each student will complete a significant piece of narrative reporting accessible from the United States.

We will also undertake a class project about the war in Syria, incorporating data journalism methods and investigative reporting on public records, satellite imagery, user-generated content and confidential source development. The project should provide a strong, accessible body of collaborative work for each enrolled student to highlight in a portfolio. The class will satisfy workshop requirements for both investigative and data concentrators in the M.S. program.

Information Warfare Reporting: How to Report in a Hostile Information Environment

The convergence of all types of information into digital formats has created a new and confusing information landscape for both consumers and practitioners. Fake news, campaigns aimed at everything from healthcare (via the anti-vax movement), through to influencing government and radicalizing populations to acts of violence or terrorism are all now carried put through the same vectors used to carry mainstream journalism and entertainment. Journalists are inevitably on the frontlines on this seismic change in how information can be used to leverage power and affect the real world. Understanding how to report this environment is an emerging and increasingly important beat.

The ease with which large social media, search and other data aggregation platforms allow for publishing and dissemination of all types of content has created great opportunities and produced unanticipated threats. Sources of news, advertising, propaganda, and many other types of content are often difficult to distinguish from each other and easy to disseminate through frictionless sharing. The fluid nature of technology platforms means that information or content targeted at individuals for a particular outcome will shapeshift between formats and techniques. Understanding the dynamics of platforms, how the targeting of messages works, how to detect the provenance of sources are all now required skills for journalists.

Journalists have an important role in investigating this landscape as a new type of media beat, of explaining the levers of influence and harm to their audiences and holding to account the individuals, companies and governments who misuse this power. The skills needed to parse the information environment, weigh influence campaigns and the often covert use of social platforms and messaging systems will be increasingly important in many areas of reporting. The journalistic role inevitably makes reporters and their sources targets for online harassment, doxxing and deliberate campaigns to either influence or silence them. Journalists must take into account threats, how to model them and how to protect themselves, their work and their sources from these types of attacks.

This course is intended to give students the critical framework for examining the roots and dynamics of the technical changes that have created the information crisis, and the technical skills for conducting their own investigations and reporting into the problem. The format will be a mixture of lectures and skills classes, using the lens of the 2020 election cycle. Student evaluation will depend on weekly assignments, classroom participation and the presentation of a final group or individual project.

International Newsroom

The course begins with an examination of what is news and how the definition of news and the ways in which it is reported can change as you cross geographical and cultural borders. Class discussions and assignments cover global press freedom challenges, trends in international journalism and often reflect emerging news. Guests may include veteran foreign correspondents, practitioners of “the new global journalism,” such as citizen reporting projects or bloggers from countries where mainstream media face severe restrictions. Each student pitches, reports and writes several stories on international topics and, in most years, works on a class-wide reporting project. Projects have included studies of state-funded global TV channels, of western media reporting on chemical weapons use in Syria and of digital technology’s impact on international reporting. For project examples done in past years by International Newsroom, see Global Media Wars, The New Global Journalism and Global Newsroom.

International Newsroom: Human Rights Reporting

Journalists covering international and national social justice issues regularly encounter claims of human rights violations. The decades old human rights movement evolved from the scorched earth of the World Wars, when millions of refugees and survivors of genocide demanded justice. Current world crises from the Syrian Civil War to climate change to the persistent attacks on the rights of women have led to more demands for human rights. Nations seldom sanction themselves for violating the rights of citizens and refugees, and the international bodies formed to address human rights violations are often accurately described as toothless. In this course, we will look at human rights from a journalist’s perspective, and we will cover the efforts of the United Nations, NGOs, activists and human rights organizations to ensure human rights for all individuals. We will look at the history and evolution of today’s international human rights institutions, and their policies and shortcomings. And we will look at journalism’s role in human rights. Many examples exist showing that without reporting, human rights violations proceed without international condemnation. How are these issues best covered? What are best practices and ethical considerations? What tools and sources are most useful in reporting often complicated entanglements of human rights? What are our obligations to the most vulnerable? How can we represent victims of human rights violations ethically and with respect?

International Reporting

In this class students will select international topics that are freshly or very recently 'breaking' and take them beyond the first day headlines. This involves resourcefulness and enterprise in their reporting as well as teaches them the vital skill in the web age of how to write the proverbial second-day story (and beyond). This goes beyond fresh reporting and analysis and helps students achieve the right kind of voice and perspective for follow up news and feature writing.

Interviewing: The New Citizens

To teach the evolution of the journalistic interview as an interdisciplinary practice, originating in its modern form in the 20th century; and to explore its roots in the fields of history, sociology, anthropology, psychology and the arts. We will examine the ways in which interviewing theory and practice intersect as a way of increasing students’ ability to draw meaning from the life experiences and the events they witness. The class will spend seven weeks learning the ways other disciplines have explored the interview, with an eye towards developing a capstone class project that, in an homage to oral history, combines visual, textual, and audio element to describe the life experiences, social mores, legal and bureaucratic challenges, and socio-economic realities of the country’s newest citizens. For the purposes of this class, “citizen” will refer to anyone living in the Greater New York Metropolitan area, not only those who have taken the oath. The tighter focus of the project will depend on the direction the class wishes to take.

Investigating Health Care

If the U.S. health care system were a patient, it would be undergoing treatment for whiplash. After years in which the number of Americans without health insurance dropped to historic lows, President Donald Trump is pledging to undo his predecessor's legacy while delivering "great health care" to the American public. Can that be done? Welcome to investigating health care.

During this class, we will explore hospitals in disarray, exploding prescription drug prices, a mental health system in crisis and consumers struggling to afford their health insurance premiums. You will learn how to navigate one of journalism's most complicated beats, all with an investigative reporter's eye. Individual classes will focus on hospitals, health professionals, our aging society, controversies in medicine, insurance companies, health reform and the pharmaceutical industry. We also will dissect the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and what's taken place under Trump. The course will explore many issues beyond health care, including politics, consumer affairs, finances, the law, ethics and demographics. Along the way, students will become skilled in using public records, understanding bureaucratic agencies and querying databases that can be put to use on practically any beat. Class assignments will require use of investigative skills, interviewing techniques and interaction with bureaucracies. You'll work hard in this class but may leave with clips published in major U.S. media outlets.

Investigating the Failures of the Mental Health System

Mental illness is all around us. One in five Americans struggle with some form of it. We spend more than $300 billion a year on psychiatric care in this country. Still, these diseases are widely misunderstood and rarely discussed in non-judgmental, clear-headed ways. Care for people is often poorly managed and unavailable for those who need it most. We tend to blame the victims, shove them out of sight, into prisons and onto the streets.

Increasingly, we are seeing the results of these flawed policies played out to tragic ends. This investigative reporting class will examine the failures of the system and their consequences for all of us. Students will produce stories about what is broken and consider what can be fixed.

We will learn how to build an investigation of a mental health system by interviewing people with mental illness and hearing about their struggles and success. We'll go to where they live, talk to those who care for them, question policy makers and advocates. We'll mine for data, explore trends, analyze social policy and spending priorities. In short, we'll give light to what has been a very dark corner.

Investigative Project

We will explore the mission, methods and history of investigative reporting, as seen through a semester-long project examining a single subject. Our goal will be to build the foundation for a publishable, investigative article based on original research, not recycled government reports. You will learn how to find topics worthy of investigating, how to prove or disprove your investigative hypothesis through interviews, public records and data, and how to present your findings in narrative form.This class is much more than just learning the tools used in investigative reporting.It is also about developing the mindset to make the best use of those tools.

Students will divide into teams, each focusing on a separate topic. Seminars will include a general lecture and an opportunity for teams to share their findings and agree upon reporting assignments for the upcoming week.

Each student must write a weekly memo that includes: 1) a list of individuals you approached for interviews and records searched; 2) a detailed memo on each significant interview.You must exchange these memos with your team members before our seminar.At the end of the semester, each student will be required to write a 2,500-word investigative article based on team reports.

Investigative Techniques for Journalists (mandatory for all M.S. students)

This class aims to ground students in some of the fundamental tools of investigative reporting: How to obtain and analyze public records and data; get information about individuals and groups using a variety of sources; use social media for reporting and verification; and evaluate scholarly literature.

Multiple instructors teach sections of this class.

Journalism of Ideas

Several newspapers and magazines have established an "ideas" beat in recent years, in which they try to look beyond the news and identify trends in the changing ways we think about the world. The New Yorker's Malcolm Gladwell ("The Tipping Point") and James Surowiecki ("The Wisdom of Crowds"), or Farhad Manjoo, first at Slate and now at The New York Times, have deftly combined social science research and journalism into a highly successful mix while the economist Steven Levitt, with "Freakonomics" has begun a major trend of social scientists eager to reach mass audiences. Traditional newspapers such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Los Angeles Times have all experimented with ways of building ideas coverage into their papers on a regular basis and much analysis on major news websites from Salon, Slate and the Huffington Post fall into this category. Columnists like David Brooks and Nicholas Kristof routinely rummage through the world of social science to animate and give substance to their work. 

Along with helping students report and write a good ideas piece, the course will hopefully also teach them a way of thinking about stories in general: a way of looking under the surface of events and seeing some larger cultural force at work. For instance, a story about political violence after elections in Kenya could explore different theories about why and under what conditions ethnic groups will resort to violence. A tabloid story about a sociopathic killer slated for execution in Connecticut might turn into a story about what scientists have learned about how people become desensitized to the suffering of others; a piece about bullying could become a piece about what they have discovered about how to make children more caring of others. You could approach the sharp polarization of American politics by looking at how people form their beliefs and filter out information that contradicts their established views. The world of 24/7 cable news and constantly updated Internet coverage has meant that print journalism (or its online incarnations) are looking increasingly for creative analysis as a way of giving value to their work and distinguishing it from the seemingly endless stream of mere information.

The class will be divided into three groups of no more than eight students each so students will receive close attention to their written work as well as meeting as a full group to discuss common readings. The third group will meet in the evening, after the seminar, to accommodate part-time students. The course will meet from 3 to 8:30 p.m., with the first small group meeting to discuss their stories from 3 to 4:15 p.m. and the second from 4:15 to 5:30 p.m. The entire class will meet from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. and the third group of students will remain afterward to workshop stories from 6:45 to 8 p.m.  Students will write three substantial stories. Along with developing analytical skills, students will also have a chance to work on narrative technique and developing a writing style.

Literary Journalism

This workshop combines writing and reporting with the study of excellent stylists, both nonfiction writers who have reached beyond conventional news style to render their writing as compelling and graceful as that of the best novelists (such as Katherine Boo, Ryszard Kapuscinski, John McPhee, James Baldwin, Joan Didion and George Orwell) and novelists whose style is inspiring (Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, among others). Students read and analyze these writers, then do a few short writing exercises and one long article attempting to emulate the best stylists in the field. The idea is to practice the longform style of journalism used in books and magazines such as Granta, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, The Believer and literary journals, online and off. 

M.A. Arts & Culture Fall Seminar

In the fall semester, the Arts & Culture seminar engages many enduring questions that are foundational to this broad beat: What is art? What is culture? Who is an artist? What are cultural rights? What is creativity? How does critical theory help us understand cultural phenomena? Where do classifications often invoked in the arts come from and how are they useful? How do the arts themselves represent history and culture? Experts from Columbia and elsewhere help guide us in our inquiries, among them, the cultural anthropology professor Paige West, human rights legal scholar Kendall Thomas, artist and arts education professor Olga Hubard Orvananos, experimental film scholar Ronald Gregg, and historian and journalism professor Jelani Cobb. Meanwhile, students cover an international fall arts festival in the city, writing news features, reviews, and critical essays; develop a team podcast project; and write a longform complex profile of an artist.

 

 

M.A. Arts & Culture Spring Seminar

Without abandoning the aesthetic and theoretical concerns addressed in the fall semester, this seminar turns to more direct examinations of issues related to arts and culture policy, economics, and politics: art markets, public and private funding, creative economies, ownership questions, and the role of the arts in diplomacy, protest movements, and state propaganda. We look at various ways the arts are engaged for some kind of utilitarian purpose -- from economic development to the social development of "at-risk youth," from heightening spiritual engagement to lowering blood pressure. For these investigations, our faculty partners include intellectual property expert and law professor Jane Ginsburg, curator and art consultant Jonathan Binstock, religion professor Josef Sorrett, and literature and Latin American Studies professor Frances Negrón Muntaner. Students continue to work on their writing -- this semester, with special emphasis on critical writing. They also team up for a group investigative cultural reporting project.

 

M.A. Business Fall Seminar

With the world's economies so intricately linked, perspective is essential. In the fall, students will examine economies that are now thriving, like the United States, but also learn about the warning signs of stagnation, downturn and decline. They will discuss capitalism's shortcomings -- as well as various new proposals like a living wage, employee business ownership and the breakup of powerful technology titans. Stripping away political gamesmanship, they will contemplate failing economies, such as Venezuela's, to analyze what went wrong and sketch out possible future courses. They will gain a greater appreciation of the extraordinary long-term impact wrought by very gradual shifts, like more women entering the workforce and labor's move away from unions. Through data analysis, students will learn how to estimate the impact of government policies, central bank actions and legal decisions on the population as a whole. From guest speakers who are economists and journalists with decades of experience, they will discern the economic ripples that ultimately dictate everyday life, including an individual's ability to buy a house, pay for college and retire in comfort.

 

M.A. Business Spring Seminar

Students move on to the basics of financial reporting in the spring semester. After an introduction to capital markets, they analyze the corporate building blocks, from the assets and liabilities on a balance sheet to income statements. Timely case studies will be introduced on companies like Tesla (What is it really worth? Is it in financial trouble? Will it go private?) and Disney (Why did it merge repeatedly with other big companies? Why did it diversify into Broadway shows? Can this classic entertainment company survive the disruption of the Internet?). Students will consider whether chief executives have ethical responsibilities that extend beyond shareholders. They will ask, what are the warning signs of trouble in a corporation: in accounting, in the way the company is run, in the way the board of directors is structured? Similarly, what are the clues that politicians may be enriching themselves, their associates or favorite industries? Lawyers and accountants will illuminate the financial enforcement of crimes like money laundering, securities fraud and insider trading. Along the way, students will assess the true value of an enterprise and glean whether they -- and investors of all stripes from hedge funds to college endowments -- are making wise investment decisions for tomorrow.