Classes | Page 2 | Columbia Journalism School


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.

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: 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 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.

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.

Radio Workshop

Radio Workshop develops the skills to tell compelling, sound-driven news stories as well as the fundamentals of long-form audio storytelling. The class operates as a working newsroom to produce a live, hour-long weekly news-magazine program, Uptown Radio.

As reporters, students produce four enterprise stories of increasing complexity, a personal commentary, two day-stories, two newscasts, and two host interviews. On the production side, students rotate through key leadership positions and technical positions to ensure a high-quality, timely broadcast. The leadership team makes all of editorial decisions with support from the instructors as needed.

Learning to write well for audio forces you to write clearly and concisely. As such, this course develops your reporting and writing in ways that will be useful in whatever career path you choose.

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.

Shoe Leather: Multi-Casting Investigative Stories

This class is for students who want to take their long-form journalism beyond print. In it, students will work in small teams to produce episodes for an original podcast — SHOE LEATHER — and create a corresponding web page with text, photos, primary source documents and short videos. Students will take a deep dive into a specific news event from New York City in the 1980’s, and explore how it was covered at the time, and its impact decades later.

Using online resources and old fashioned shoe leather reporting, the goal of each podcast episode will be to find the main newsmakers of the past event and reveal how the news coverage influenced their lives. Students might pursue crime stories, missing persons cases, the rise and fall of political figures, catastrophic events that impacted a neighborhood, natural disasters that swept through a community, or an act of heroism that received wide acclaim. The stories will take the listener back in time using clear narrative writing and archival tape, and explain the significance of the news event and the role the newsmaker played.

Three seminars will be co-taught by professors Faryon and Maharidge. They will focus on the cross-over between long-form print narratives and storytelling for journalism-driven podcasts. Students will learn how to plan their reporting to ensure a three-act structure, and animate stories beyond talking heads. They’ll learn to think in scenes, and how those scenes translate into print, audio and video. This class prepares students to produce long form audio for a digital newsroom such as the LA Times, or podcast creation company. It will also train students to think like a “platform neutral” journalist — in other words — open to telling stories in different ways for different audiences.

Sports Reporting

Sports occupies a special place in American society. Television props up its financial investment by giving sporting events professional, college and high school – staggering blocks of time every day; many newspapers keep readers by devoting huge percentages of their daily news holes to local, national and international coverage. Sports talk radio and countless internet sites dissect every play, every individual and every move, often adding to the stifling pressure on athletes, coaches, owners and administrators. Sport has evolved into a complex part of American life that requires thinking, well-trained, well-read and fundamentally sound journalists. A sports journalist must be able to quickly and clearly tell readers and viewers what is happening on the field, on the court or on the track; and the modern sports journalist must have a solid background on issues as diverse as labor, medicine, performance-enhancing drugs, stadium financing, race, Title IX, gender, masculinity, youth sports – and the daily police blotter. A sports journalist must understand the fascinating history of this world, as well as social media and emerging trends, and must continue the tradition of adding to some of the best writing, reporting and commentary in journalism. This course will address all of these matters with coverage of local professional and college games, feature pieces, columns, issue-oriented takeouts and investigative stories dictated by the news.

The Art of the Profile

There’s a reason one of the most successful magazines launched in the past 45 years is called People. There’s also a reason the earliest stories we heard usually began, “There once was a little girl/evil wizard /mighty queen” and rarely began, “There once was a Committee on Ways and Means.” We are hardwired to take interest in the adventures, histories and dilemmas of other members of our species.


In this course, 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 contemporary and classic profiles, of subjects from baseball legend Ty Cobb to a sex toys saleswoman. You’ll discover how to leverage readers’ intrinsic interest in other people to inform them of things they think they don’t care about.

You’ll put together three profiles of various types, plus proposals and revisions. I’ll take a machete (at first) or a scalpel (later on) to every sentence you write. Some gifted practitioners will come tell us how they do it.

The Journalist as Historian

A good work of history reads like a novel in which all the details are true. In this course, you will learn to frame a piece of history as a story, uncover sources, and transform evidence into an accurate narrative that casts the past and present in a new light. We will develop skills for finding and using archives, and for using sources including memoirs, newspapers, and popular culture to strengthen a story. With a focus on long-form writing, we will work on how to uncover the plot line in actual events and develop characters. To build a repertoire of techniques, we will look at fine historical writing, especially by journalists. Examining work on American race relations and the Israeli-Arab conflict, we will look at the relationship between facts, accepted narratives, and the writer's personal perspective — and at the impact of new writing on "what everyone knows." In short, we'll see how a writer can change history. In your own work, you will define a subject for a book-length work of history. You will then find sources and write one extended episode of the story. Finally, you will create a chapter outline and rewrite your episode in response to new sources and intensive workshop discussion of your writing. 

 By the end of the course, each student should have the materials for a book proposal, along with the skills for enriching magazine writing with reporting on the past.

The Memory Project

This course takes as its inspiration these words from Samuel Johnson: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”

This is a storytelling class — both written and spoken. But it is also a class where students are expected to identify and connect with an audience — readers, and listeners who so value their work that they will want to share and, yes, even pay for it. First to the story telling: The Memory Project – in which each student begins by taking a memory inspired by a photograph (his, hers or someone elses) then goes back to report what, in fact, happened. Or to quote, William Faulkner: Memory believes before knowing remembers.

Then, to the telling: This year's class will do that telling in two formats: in a book and on a podcast. Stories told for eye, and the ear.

And then, to the publishing: guided by James G. Robinson, who's worked on audience and analytics at the New York Times for over 10 years, we will identify readers and listeners most interested in these stories and experiment with ways to connect with them.

One thing we have learned, and believe is that readers connect most with stories writers need to tell.

Those are the stories you will work on this class.

Using Data to Investigate Across Borders

Exponential amounts of information about the world are being produced daily and journalists everywhere need to have a global mindset if they are to write about organized crime, corruption, human trafficking, global trade and threats to the environment.

We live in an increasingly borderless world. Goods, money, people and ideas flow freely across borders thanks to technology and the liberalization of customs and money controls. We all benefit from globalization and the free flow of commerce that it makes possible. But there’s a dark side: A borderless world also makes it easier for crooks and criminals to do their work.

Around the world, journalists are developing techniques to cope with the globalization of crime, corruption and environmental damage. They are adopting strategies that include the smart use of data and collaboration across borders. The volume and velocity with which information and data are being produced and the variety of open sources currently available make it possible to develop reporting strategies that are truly global.

This course will prepare students to find global data, process and analyze it; and to report on it from New York while working with sources and possibly other journalists overseas. Students will learn skills like doing background checks on people and companies, mining the social web, tracking offshore entities and finding assets and cargo. They will be divided into reporting teams and will be able to find, scrape, consolidate, analyze and visualize data in the context of a big global story by the end of the semester.

Video Newsroom

Whether your interest is broadcast news coverage or long form documentary, learning to report news and quickly produce a clear video story prepares you to be agile in the changing video journalism marketplace.

In Video Newsroom, students will report, write and produce video stories ranging from the four-minute BBC-style story to the 90-second US broadcast news variety to 30-second social media spots. We will apply reporting techniques to the audio-visual medium, to tell news, feature and investigative stories effectively. We will explore ethical issues applicable to video journalism and learn to interview for video, shoot sequences and write for the short news format. 

This class meets two full days a week. Most weeks, students will produce stories with one day largely dedicated to working through scripts and edits.

The class functions like a newsroom. Each week, students will be assigned to an editor. The editors/adjunct professors are video news professionals who work as producers and on-air reporters. Please note: Every morning (M-F) at 8am, students and editors will have a 20-minute morning call to discuss the news of the day and stories you are working on.

Students will pitch and be assigned news, feature and deep dive/investigative stories.

In addition, students will receive additional support in camera skills, voice tracking, graphics production.

The on-air clinic will run for five sessions on Fridays* led by an on-air news reporter to develop live and camera presentation skills. We will visit network and local newsrooms and hear from producers and reporters in the field. During the last five weeks, students will produce a newscast, each taking on a different role as producers and reporters.

(*Subject to change)