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.

Food Writing

The food beat is a diverse one that covers culture and family, politics, health and science, immigration, business, or simply food, from Hudson Valley apples to the global corn crop. Food journalism requires vigorous reporting and offers rich opportunities for both data-driven and observational work; it supports the investigative journalist as well as the feature writer. This course introduces you to the myriad ways you can report on what we eat, whether it’s a feature on an ethnic cuisine or a story about a farmer who’s growing what she hopes will be the next kale. A multimedia class project called “New York Sits Down to Dinner” will focus this year on hunger in NYC and involve data research and added video/photo training to complement the print stories. Visit www.nytable.com to see what last year's class produced.

Students who wish to do video in this class will be charged a $275 lab fee.

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.

Gendering Migration: An Intensive Course on Women and Girls Crossing Borders

Women make up slightly less than half of the global migrant population and they face different risks and challenges. These include vulnerability to discrimination, sexual exploitation, violence and specific health risks. The true extent of the difficulties migrant women and girls suffer is difficult to estimate. Their suffering is hidden: These women do not speak out because they are afraid or ashamed of what has been done to them.
 

While women and girls are leaving their native countries in far greater numbers than in the past, they have remained largely invisible. Because they mostly end up working in kitchens, nurseries, farms or brothels, they are hidden and kept out of public life. They are dispersed, unorganized and without bargaining power. During the 15-week course, the students will study global migration issues while also doing ambitious investigative reporting projects on women and migration. It will review ethnographic and sociological studies on the subject and teach techniques on following the money and document trail in women’s migration.

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.

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.

Investigating Health Care

Exploding prescription drug prices. A mental health system in crisis. Consumers struggling to afford their health insurance premiums. These are among the issues that make taking this course in the spring semester such a great opportunity. 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 will also dissect the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. 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 used on practically any beat. Class assignments will require use of investigative skills, interviewing techniques and interaction with bureaucracies. You will 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.

This class satisfies the investigative requirement for students in the Stabile concentration.

Investigative Project

This course 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 document wrongdoing and how to present your findings in narrative form. If all goes well, you will have the opportunity to experience the exhilaration of discovering long-buried secrets. We will use the team approach.

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.

Journalistic Computing

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.

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. 

Longform Digital: The Memory Project

This class is a writing laboratory. It is built upon the written word and is designed for students whose goal is to write ambitious narrative nonfiction. At a time when the centuries-old wall between writers and readers is collapsing, when gatekeepers no longer have sole say about what will be published, the creative possibilities for writers of narrative nonfiction have never been greater. And yet, even as the weight of convention and form fall aside, writers are left to ask: How can I tell the stories I need to tell and how can I find a (paying) audience for my work?

This spring’s class takes William Faulkner’s words – “Memory believes before knowing remembers” – and applies them to journalism. Students will be asked to take a memory, their own or someone else’s, and then report – and tell – the story that lies behind and perhaps beyond that memory. It is one thing to recall and another to learn what happened and why. The class will produce a project called “The Memory Project.” Students will be expected to identify and connect with audiences for their work. 

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.

 

M.A. Essentials (mandatory for all M.A. students)

Investigative techniques are key to 21st century journalism. Students learn the best ways to comb public records, conduct internet forensics and do thorough background searches on individuals and corporations. They gain an understanding of cutting-edge concepts in data journalism and how to employ them in coverage of their concentrations. Multiple instructors teach sections of this class. 

M.A. Evidence and Inference

This fall M.A. course teaches a disciplined “journalistic method” of testing assumptions and hypotheses, recognizing the ways that stories can distort the truth and exploring how to make sure that reporting firmly proves its points.

Students also develop useful skills for working with statistics, conducting in-depth interviews and combining anecdote and narrative with the big picture in their writing.

M.A. Politics Fall Seminar

In the fall, students In the M.A. Politics seminar will learn about the formation of the nation state – why it won out over sprawling, multi-ethnic empires or city states. We use this rich scholarship to help us understand why there is not a coherent central state in Afghanistan or Somalia. Students will learn about the origins of nationalism: why are people willing to die – and kill – for something (the nation) that made little sense to people of earlier centuries? They use that understanding to decode emerging situations of ethnic conflict, resurgent nationalism and populism. The seminar also examines the dynamics of collective behavior -- what happens when people get together to effect change, and under what circumstances do political and social movements succeed or fail? Scholars from relevant fields and journalists covering these issues will visit the class on a regular basis. Recent guests have included behavioral economist Robert Frank, journalist William Finnegan and historian Mahmood Mamdani. 

 

M.A. Politics Spring Seminar

The spring semester of the M.A. Politics seminar focuses on political institutions. Just about everywhere in the world, there are political parties, interest groups, legislatures, executives, judiciaries, regulatory agencies, and so on. The seminar looks at how these developed and the varied forms they take, using the United States as the primary, but not exclusive, example. Readings are a mix of political theory, empirical political science, and journalism. Assignments aim to teach students to understand the political personalities and events that journalists cover into an institutional context. Recent guests include journalist Emily Bazelon, political scientist Robert Y. Shapiro, political scientist Kimberley Johnson and law professor Olivier Sylvain.

 

M.A. Science Fall Seminar

The fall semester of the M.A. Science seminar typically starts with the history of science: students look at the continuities between past events, such as the Scopes Trial, and contemporary issues. They then delve into climate science, visiting laboratories to understand contemporary research, and they examine the politics of the field. They study several exciting frontiers in physics (black holes and gravitational waves), technology (instruments and ethics), and finish the semester with sessions on ecology, focusing on current issues such as urban ecology or invasive species. Along the way, they examine scientific funding and think critically about metaphor in science writing. Recent fall lecturers have included historian of science Daniel Kevles, paleoclimatologist Gisela Winckler, mathematician Cathy O’Neil, and ecologist Matthew Palmer.