Classes | 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.

Book Writing

This seminar teaches students to prepare a book proposal, including an overview essay and a sample chapter, both at least 4,000 words long. Each student must enter the class with sufficient material from elsewhere or an idea that can be researched in the New York area. Students will not be permitted to use their Master’s Project for this seminar. Coursework ranges from intensive study of literary nonfiction and journalistic fiction, with related writing assignments on a weekly basis, to instruction in the techniques of reporting, writing extended narrative and producing a book proposal. Guest speakers from the publishing industry appear frequently. Enrollment is limited with the approval of the instructor. Interested students should attend the information session where the application process will be discussed.

Criticism Workshop

 From competition among tragedies in Ancient Greek festivals to flame-wars over the latest Kendrick Lamar track, works of art and entertainment seem always to live (or die) amid a public debate about their merits and flaws. Writers of serious criticism both join the fray and stay above (or get beneath) it, considering what a work does, how it does it, what it means, and why it matters. In this seminar, we bring such questions to bear as we work on writing criticism with authority and eloquence. Through extensive reading of historical and contemporary criticism, and weekly, closely edited writing assignments of various shapes and sizes-- from the 250-word blog post to the 1500-word think-piece-- students work on developing engaging and persuasive essays expressing their considered judgment. 

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.

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.

 

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.

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.