Classes

Please note: The classes listed here represent recent offerings at the Journalism School. These include M.S. and M.S. in Data Journalism courses, except for those that are specifically designated as 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 Writing

The class is built around a single, core question: How can I tell a true story that will make readers keep asking, "What happened next?"

To answer that question we'll be spending a lot of time telling stories – small stories that will lead to one, big, ambitious and compelling story whose subject is one that you feel you must write about.

The best told stories are those writers need to tell, stories that, as author Norman Maclean put it, allow writers to discover and tell something about themselves. The thrill of discovery happens in the reporting, which is the central task of journalism. The telling begins with the framing of the question at the heart of that story, which leads a writer deciding how best to tell the tale.

There are all sorts of ways to tell stories and in this class, form is not a virtue. Curiosity is because curiosity, the need to know, fuels the reporting that great stories are built upon.

Count on weekly writing assignments, as well as reading, talking about what makes stories work and what makes them just miss.

Everyone comes to the school loving to hear stories, and often, very much liking to tell them. This class is designed to help you find ways to tell reported stories that readers cannot resist.

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 to apply them to your own. The first few 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 and character. The remaining weeks proceed through a series of more specific technical issues using dialogue, choosing and depicting characters, compressing and expanding time, managing transitions, providing historical context and establishing a voice.

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.

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.

Reporting and Writing Profiles

There’s a reason one of the most successful magazines launched in the past 40 years is called People. You’ll learn and practice the specialized interviewing, reporting and writing skills used to portray individuals. We’ll read and discuss some of the best classic and contemporary profiles, of subjects from Ty Cobb to a sex-toys saleswoman. We’ll talk a lot about structure. I’ll take a machete (at first) or a scalpel (later on) to every sentence you write. Some gifted current practitioners will tell us how they do it. I’ll schedule two to three individual conferences with each student to review your stories. We’ll discover how to leverage readers’ intrinsic interest in other people to inform them about things they think they don’t want to know.

Storytelling for the Ear

Section 1: Ann Cooper
Section 2: Daniel Alarcon

Whether we are listening to them or reading them, stories told for the ear engage us, hold our attention and make us "see" the story. Driven by strong, clear narrative writing, these stories capture our imagination. They are intimate and compelling. The writing is conversational and active. The scenes are vivid and memorable. From Edward R. Murrow’s account of entering Buchenwald in 1945, to Sarah Koenig’s 2014 Serial podcast, journalists who write for the ear have always been among our most powerful storytellers.

This class explores the qualities of the best audio storytelling and the ways it differs from, and is similar to, writing for print, online or video. For some assignments, students will record interviews and use them in producing audio scripts. These assignments complement, but do not duplicate, audio courses in the Sound and Image module. The level of technical skills required are no more than what all students have learned in the August digital skills training – recording and mixing a basic story with written narration and actuality from interviews. Storytelling for the Ear is not a prerequisite for any course, though the writing style taught in this class will make all of your writing stronger. it will be especially useful for students planning careers in broadcast journalism, whether radio, television or documentary.

The Art of the Profile

Writing profiles means writing about people, bringing them to life on the page. Profiles often begin with physical descriptions and so will we. These passages don’t come easily without practice; we’ll study examples from Dickens, from classic journalists (McPhee, Trillin and Liebling) and from young journalists (Ben McGrath, Lauren Collins and Nick Paumgarten).  We’ll learn to use physical descriptions in pitch letters to editors (there’s no better way to let an editor know that you can write) and in the stories that result from the pitches (there’s no better way to make a reader care about the person you’re reporting on). 

Once we’ve gained fluency, we’ll move on to questions of organization, structure, suspense, mystery – every human being is a mystery – and ultimately, a 3,000-word magazine-length profile. We’ll have guests to advise us on how to win the trust of a subject. (Every reporter does it differently; you’ll want to find the way that works with your particular set of charms). In class, we’ll read our work aloud, slowly, and pause over nearly every sentence. We’ll root out newspaper syntax, clichés, solecisms, hot air and tedious throat-clearing. And together, we’ll delight in the classroom miracles that can result from sheer concentration on writing well.

The Journalism of Death and Dying

Just about every journalist has to cover death, whether a fireman’s funeral, a fatal car crash, a memorial service or a simple obituary of a community leader. This seven-week course will equip students to cover end-of-life issues, including terminal illness, murders, suicides and fatal accidents in both the personal and public spheres. With the help of experts on trauma, students will discuss best practices about interviewing the bereaved and survivors. The reading list will include some of the great journalism on death and dying, including classic obituaries and accounts of disasters such as 9/11, Katrina and the Indian Ocean tsunami. The class will also look at some of the digital media outlets that are increasingly used to memorialize the dead. Finally, the class will explore the cross-cultural and cross-theological practices surrounding death. Over the course of the semester each student will visit a public memorial and a funeral home and write a story from each venue. There will be weekly research, writing and rewriting assignments with the goal of producing three 1,200-word articles.

Writing with Style

Writing with style means achieving a distinctive and elegant voice that makes one’s storytelling stand above the crowd. Style like this is made up of several elements: 1) A rich and surprising vocabulary. 2) A sense of rhythm and music in speech; i.e. knowing when to vary the length of sentences, when to open quotes and when to close them. Knowing how to begin, and just as important, when to end. 3) A sense of humor, and of drama. 4) A deep knowledge of your subject matter. 5) And last but not least, a sense of which stories to choose that suit your own style and interests. In this class, we will concentrate on each of these elements, both through assignments and reading. We will read and study in detail some of the best stylists in nonfiction. Student work will be critiqued in class.