Classes | Page 3 | 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.

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.

 

M.A. Science Spring Seminar

The spring semester focuses on evolution and genetics, neuroscience, public health and medicine. Students often travel to see fossils in situ and at the American Museum of Natural History, and they learn about mass extinction events and how the movements of the cosmos are reflected in sediments on Earth. They learn how to take apart medical studies and flex the statistics they have learned in Evidence & Inference in the fall. They also discuss some of the newest developments in epigenetics and in neuroscience. Recent spring lecturers have included paleontologist Paul Olsen, neuroscientist Stuart Firestein, animal behaviorist Diana Reiss, medical historian David Rosner and sociologist Alondra Nelson. 

 

M.S. Essentials: Business

The journalism business is in a period of historic flux. Many legacy models are eroding, while nascent business models show promise but often have not yet achieved stability or profitability. This is the world in which you will work, and it is both exciting and daunting.

Multiple instructors teach sections of this class.

 

To better prepare you for that world, we require M.S. students to take this course, as part of the Friday core that also includes law, ethics and history. We want you to understand the challenges, opportunities and vicissitudes of the journalism business, not just for your own career development, but also because we want you to be partners and innovators in determining new ways to secure the future of journalism. We want to get beyond the sound bites and explore the ways journalism could be funded during the course of your careers. We also hope you will understand more from this course about how businesspeople make decisions, which is important in whatever line of journalism you pursue. It is no longer acceptable for journalists to ignore the economics of their profession or leave the economic decisions entirely to the business folks.

M.S. Essentials: Ethics

This class is intended to equip every student with confidence about how to be an ethical journalist. Some of that will involve discussing and defining certain core rules and principles that every Journalism School graduate should understand and try to follow, while aspiring to professionalism. More of the class, however, will involve learning to recognize repetitious dilemmas in journalism that have no absolute solutions but must be reexamined case by case, each in its own context. Just as most newsrooms resolve the most difficult ethical dilemmas through transparent, collaborative discussion, our class will mainly turn on open discussion about shared readings that highlight the range of ethical issues that are most important and common to journalism. 

Multiple instructors teach sections of this class.

M.S. Essentials: History

Drawing on historical examples of the best work of print, broadcast and digital journalists – from the editorialist to the war correspondent, from the photojournalist to the New Journalist, from the muckraker to the blogger – this class explores the development of the values, practices, ethical standards, technological developments and social roles that cluster around the institution of journalism. The focus is on the evolution of the role and work of the American reporter within the context of global developments.

Multiple instructors teach sections of this class.

M.S. Essentials: Law

This course is designed to acquaint students with the basic protections and restrictions of the law as they apply to the media. Significant court cases and fundamental legal rules will be explored in the context of political and historical realities, and in terms of journalistic standards and practices; contemporary media law issues will also be focused on. Among the issues that will be examined are libel, invasion of privacy, prior restraints, newsgathering and newsgathering torts, copyright and the reporter’s privilege.

Multiple instructors teach sections of this class.

Magazine Workshop: Trumplandia

We are now entering our fourth year of life under the Trump administration. Some things in the country have changed; others have remained stubbornly the same. Journalists have been forced, in ways both useful and not, to think about their role in the defense but also possibly the demise of democracy. I

n this class we will be working on creating a print issue of Trumplandia magazine. We will talk together about what goes into making a magazine, we will read up on some great and near-great magazines of the past, we will discuss the task of magazines at the present moment, and we will then produce our own magazine in both print and digital versions. Each student will assume a double role: contributor and editor. To do well in this course you'll need a balanced interest in longform reporting and writing. Students will produce at least one significant piece over the course of the semester, touching on some aspect of American life under Trump, whether it's related to changes handed down from the federal government (related to immigration, deregulation, taxes, for instance), or cultural shifts that have taken place in response to the Trump presidency (#metoo, the growth of the alt-right). As editors, students will be expected to engage substantively with classmates' work. Students will also get experience in layout, display, and design. At the end of the semester we will post our pieces online and produce the print issue. Last year's issue is available in Pulitzer 802 and at Trumplandia Magazine.

The goal for this course is that by the end of the semester students will have produced not only great individual work but also a significant collective contribution to our understanding of what is happening in our country.

Magazine Writing

Magazine journalism presents an opportunity to break out of the conventions of newspaperese and find one’s voice. But writing for magazines also involves rules and challenges – not the least of which is figuring out how to position yourself in an uncertain field. In this course, we’ll discuss different forms of magazine writing and focus especially on substantive general-interest publications like The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Times Magazine – as well as their websites. We’ll examine the types of proposals that appeal to editors, ways of getting in the door and some useful frameworks for structuring longer magazine pieces. We’ll work on developing or refining a more natural and conversational writing style by reading articles by accomplished writers and workshopping student pieces. In addition to weekly assignments involving the study of individual magazines, students will practice pitching and writing short pieces. At the end of the course, each student will have produced a suitable magazine article of 2,500 to 3,000 words.

Managing the 21st-Century Newsroom

Why did Deadspin tell its staff to "stick to sports," and in the process, trigger a mass exodus of talent? Why is the Guardian sitting on a pile of cash that provides the foundation for such innovative global journalism? Why are so many local newspaper reporters expected to churn out several stories a day? Point your finger, for better or worse, at the people who run news organizations. CEOs, publishers and editors make decisions every day that fundamentally affect the kind of journalism you'll get to do in upcoming years. This class is for those of you who want to someday run the show, rather than be run by someone else. Students who take this class learn core principles that have long governed the media industry, along with concepts like finding funding for new ventures, or adapting technology to serve a digital audience.

 

We examine all kinds of news companies — small and large, domestic and international, for- and non-profit. In the process, you'll learnhow companies calculate revenue and expenses, and how they manage strategy, diversity, capital, hiring and firing, and newsroom crises. Our class will also give you background to do better and tougher journalism about business, including essentials like reading balance sheets and income statements, or interviewing executives and employees.The news business is going through a period of fundamental and irrevocable change. It is vital that journalists understand both the core values and ethics of our industry as well as essential digital skills to succeed.

But news managers  —  or journalists who aspire to management  —  must know all of that and more. They need to deal with the basic business principles that have long governed the media world, along with newer concepts like audience-building and technology adaptation.

This class is for those students – that is, those of you who want to run the show, rather than be run by someone else.

More Than Police & Thieves: Covering Criminal Justice in the U.S.

Despite the frequency with which it is bandied about on social media and in our news, the phrase “criminal justice system” is a misnomer. In truth, we as Americans deal with crime and its consequences through a patchwork of thousands of individual justice systems. They are archaic and opaque, difficult to navigate or even understand for direct, much less the journalists trying to cover them. By their very nature the police, courts and prisons are steeped in arcane procedures and language and locked behind closed doors. These systems resist inspection with great vigor.

And yet criminal justice—investigating crimes on behalf of victims, identifying culprits and holding them to account—is one of the very core responsibilities of any government. Its success at this task, or failure, has enormous consequences for our communities and influence on our economy. The lives of roughly 2.4 million people are managed by various arms of the justice system at any moment; they’re on probation, in our local jails or in state or federal prisons.

This class will systematically walk the students through each stage of criminal justice. Together, we will develop a holistic framework for reporting on the system as it functions and for identifying the gaps where it fails. We will explore and analyze the available data on crime, policing, courts and incarceration, and we will pursue reporting projects to start to fill some of the many holes in official data. We will look to other parts of the globe for stories that can serve as a comparison to how things operate here in the U.S.

This course aims to inspire you to go beyond the cursory coverage that crime generally receives. Over the next 15 weeks, you will sharpen your ability to obtain and critically assess public information and data from the arms of the criminal justice system. With these tools, you’ll create unique and accurate stories on critical topics of public safety and the due process of law enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

Multimedia Design & Storytelling

Readers get their news from multiple platforms, and today's journalists must therefore learn to tell stories for and across these platforms. Design, especially in the digital space, allows us to add new kinds of texture and dimension to our reporting. This class will deal with the many formats that stories can take and how those formats play out across different devices, as opposed to analysis of mobile apps or platforms on which those stories appear. We will emphasize visual storytelling for mobile devices: how a reporter/visual editor work together to present information easy to consume on smartphones. We will learn to blend editorial design essentials (grids, color, type, story structures, motion, user experience) with modern tools for building digital stories. The class combines lectures with weekly hands-on work.

Multimedia Storytelling: Data, Design and Animation

This intensive production course covers the fundamentals of using data, design and animation to tell deeply-reported, compelling stories. Students will learn how to use industry-standard multimedia production tools, as well as advanced animation storytelling techniques. Students will be taught how to source data, storyboard, design, produce, and animate journalistic stories. Several short- and long-form projects will guide students through the process of conceptualizing, visualizing and producing animated stories.

Multimedia Storytelling: Data, Design and Animation combines data sourcing, motion design and video production exploring the powerful potential of digital visualization methods for journalism. Students will be taught how to research, report, source data, storyboard, design, produce, edit and animate in-depth journalistic video content to acquire advanced industry-standard storytelling techniques.

Multimedia Storytelling: Visual Craft

This course is designed for students looking to learn long-form, documentary filmmaking for theatrical release or digital platforms.The workshop component is part field training, part theory and discussion, part production, and part business. Students will produce a documentary film by the end of the course.

A large portion of class time will be spent with instructors working on shooting fundamentals and working towards advanced cinematography and storytelling techniques. A strong emphasis will be placed on visual composition and aesthetics. Students will be critiqued on their production skills as well as their reporting and storytelling.Significant classroom time will be spent on advanced editing techniques.

This course is not designed for those looking to become on-camera correspondents or to produce for network television programming.

Narrative News Features

This course will explore a versatile, durable, lively and evolving approach to news writing. Using writing exercises and story assignments, students will develop skills in the elements of narrative writing – imagery, theme, characters and dialogue, even with tight word counts. The news feature gives journalists a vehicle for examining a topic or event through firsthand accounts, background facts and context. It is widely used in publications and online. Assignments will range in length from 500 words to 1,200 words. The objective is to produce sparkling news features that are sharply and tightly written; and fit these characteristics outlined a few years ago by Roy Peter Clark: “You can read it, if you want to, in a single sitting on the day the story was published. You can read a short one in five minutes and a long one in 15 minutes. It is not a news story but can be inspired by the news. It has, at its heart, human interest. It illuminates lives lived in our times.”

Narrative Social Issues

This class is about the art of the written word — storytelling rooted in deeply reported journalism about myriad social-political-cultural issues facing the world today. It’s journalism that is literary and "documentary" in the manner of the great nonfiction writing produced during the 1930s by James Agee, Edmund Wilson, Louis Adamic, and others. Practitioners today include Joan Didion, Kate Boo, Ted Conover and William T. Vollmann.

The course is aimed at those who want to write narrative long-form journalism that could appear in the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Harper's; quarterlies such as VQR or the Oxford American; quality alternative weeklies; or online sites such as the Atavist and Narratively.

Narrative Writing

All of the best stories in journalism, whether as short as a column or as long as a book, share the same basic narrative principles. The aim of this course is to master those principles, to study them in the work of others and apply them to your own. The first class sessions are spent in an overview of the narrative form, discussing how to recognize, report, structure and write stories that move confidently through time, place, character and event. The remaining weeks proceed through a series of more specific narrative strategies and tactics: using dialogue, choosing and depicting characters, compressing and expanding time, managing transitions, providing historical context, establishing a voice. Beyond the regular readings, the main requirement is to find one good story idea and then write it and rewrite it, as a short narrative first (800 words) and then as longer one (2,500-3,000), gradually working your way deeper into the narrative form as the semester progresses.

Narrative Writing: The Rise and Fall Story

Like the profile, the rise-and-fall story is a durably popular genre of magazine and newspaper writing, as well as magazine broadcast journalism and documentary filmmaking. This course will teach you how to identify, report and write with verve such a time-honored narrative. The genre’s typical story arc is as old as Greek and Elizabethan tragedy. It involves, usually, a woman or man in public life who enjoys success, succumbs to hubris and is laid low. In modern times, such a reader-friendly story might evolve out of a murder trial, an insider trading indictment, a high-flying Silicon Valley bankruptcy or the firing of the first female editor of The New York Times. We will break down and diagram magazine-length examples of the genre such as Jim Stewart’s recent New Yorker epic on the collapse of one of the world’s largest law firms. We will learn how to map out a story’s chronology; how to choose a lead and then drive toward a narrative climax; and how to interview and report from multiple sources so as to serve writing that is brisk, well-ordered, accessible, character-driven and enlivened by specific scenes and dialogue. Each student will pitch a rise-and-fall story of 2,500-3,000 words that can be reported in the time available and will draft and redraft as we learn and discuss the form.

News Products

Journalistic organizations are continually experimenting with new ways to engage with their readers — crafting novel approaches to creating, curating and delivering content. According to a recent Shorenstein/Lenfest whitepaper, the ability to manage and build innovative “news products” is an integral part of the industry’s ability to attract and retain subscribers. News products are everything from the custom data visualizations we experience on an almost daily basis from major news organizations around the globe, to novel newsletters or podcasts; from cooking apps for your iPhone to advanced recommendation engines; all of which seek to enhance the relationship between outlet and user. By positioning a class on news products, we hope to not only teach new skills within the school, but also to bolster novel thinking from our students on the ways journalism is created, experienced and distributed.

In news organizations, the most inventive engagement techniques are being developed by cross-functional teams that cut across the outlet’s business and newsroom. To be effective working on news products requires a key set of skills — skills that typically reside in disciplines outside journalism. This course seeks to address that gap, introducing concepts to developing news products through the product development process. Over the course of a semester, students will engage with methods, practices (and experts) from journalism, design, engineering, entrepreneurship and business.

The News Products course will be broken into three core components: design, engineering, and business models. The course will largely be project-based, pairing students with similar interests to work on a news product over the course of a semester. In the first segment, students will learn the principles of product design and will rapidly test ideas by building interactive prototypes. Incorporating the latest approaches to “design thinking,” especially as they relate to strategies for developing content.

Off the News

Story ideas can spring straight from the brows of editors but the best ones tend to emerge from two faithful sources – a well-covered beat or from the news itself. This course is about that latter category – reporting off the news, on deadline.

In this class, we will organize our reporting to advance the story as quickly as we can and publish the edited results on The Brooklyn Ink website.

What kind of things? They might be big or small, expected or unexpected, global or local. Maybe a gang shooting in Brooklyn – who are these people and what is the backdrop? Maybe a presidential election in Pakistan – what questions does this raise in our Pakistani neighborhoods? Maybe the consumer confidence number takes a jump: How can we localize that? Maybe a school closes or a restaurant gets a C from the health department or another hurricane is approaching or a politician unexpectedly endorses the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy. Or…

Much of this class will be about brainstorming – sometimes together, sometimes individually – around two issues: What news of the day raises the kind of questions that The Brooklyn Ink wants to address? And, once we have our story ideas, how do we go about adding context and new facts via our own original reporting, plus Web and library research? We will work on small group projects and individual stories, with rigorous editing. We will hear from a couple of guests who are good at this kind of reporting, too.

Photojournalism I

This course covers the basics of photojournalism, including DSLR camera operation, workflow, post production, captioning and keywording using Adobe software. Students will have weekly assignments photographing and editing news, portrait and multi-picture feature stories.   Fieldwork will be supported by discussions of contemporary examples of photojournalism and the ethical and legal issues of visual reporting.  Students will leave the class able to identify visual opportunities in the field, and be equipped to shoot single image and multi picture slideshows for print and internet publications.  Note: There is a $50 equipment fee associated with this class for students planning to use our equipment. Students who bring their own dSLRs and lenses will not be charged this fee.\\ Multiple instructors teach sections of this class.