Classes | 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.

China Seminar

In the years and decades ahead, China will powerfully shape the world both in ways that are already becoming evident and in others as yet still unexpected. If you are interested in global reporting, wherever you come from and whatever region of the world you wish to report on, having a nuanced grasp of a fast-changing and dynamic China will be indispensable to writing smartly about international affairs.

This course aims to deepen students' understanding of China and sharpen the ways we think and write about the country as journalists. The seminar-style class involves wide and eclectic readings about China, which may include works of reportage, political science, history, sociology, business and economics and culture. Guest speakers will also be drawn from a range of areas of expertise and background. The course requires that students read current coverage of China from a variety of leading Western and (in translation) Chinese media. A portion of each class will be set aside for a running comparative examination of this coverage.

Written assignments will consist of off-the-news, deeply and collaboratively reported articles by students on current events, with a rich variety of voices drawn from both China and abroad. Students should expect to receive regular, careful editing of their work, along with feedback on writing and reporting.

Students who have little or no past exposure to China are welcome, as are students with prior experience in China and of course Chinese students, as well. Whatever your background there will be plenty to stimulate and engage you.

Covering Religion

Covering Religion aims at preparing students to write about religion with depth, sensitivity and sophistication. This year, the seminar will focus on the diversity of religious faiths found in the American South. Thanks to a generous grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation, the course will include a weeklong study-tour of the region at no cost to students. The study-tour will take place over spring break.In addition to reporting and writing assignments, each student will make an oral presentation in class about the coverage of his or her faith beat. While still in New York, students will select and begin to report on the stories that they want to cover while traveling. Upon their return, students will write and produce the stories that they worked on while traveling. This course is open by application only to all MS students, both part-time and full-time.

Follow the Covering Religion blog to learn about the places where we've traveled.

Gender and Migration

The symbol of the country’s immigration story stands in New York Harbor, surrounded by modern-day examples of resilience. The Southern Border may be the epicenter of a migration crisis reverberating throughout the world, but New York is the place to report on its effects. In this course, students will examine national and international issues through the prism of local reporting. 

Women and children have been the most vulnerable under the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration, from the newest restrictions on asylum laws to family separation, to the drastic reduction of refugees in the coming year. We will examine the push and pull factors for migration, not only from Central America, but from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, which have led to a record number of 26 million refugees today. 

In New York, advocacy groups and lawyers are uniting to help undocumented youth and women at risk, and local religious communities are assisting the resettlement of refugee families. Guest speakers from these groups — as well as city officials — will speak to the students and help them form a network of sources. At the beginning, students will choose a specific local beat and track developments weekly. The weekly lectures will focus on these topics, so that all students can build on their areas of expertise. During the semester, students will publish at least one story in cooperation with Documented, a leading immigration website publishing New York-focused news. By tackling local angles of national issues, reporters can break news that can ultimately lead to policy change in Washington: a rarity in these times. 

Journalism is ultimately about people. For immigration reporters, finding and telling those compelling stories, however, can be complicated by politics, language and fear. Students will learn how to report with sensitivity and nuance, and yet not be swayed by sentiment. That means knowing the laws and history of immigration policy from the Chinese Exclusion Act to Migration Protection Protocols, and also adhering to ethical guidelines amid a polarized climate for media.

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.

Reporting in Conflict Zones

What’s the true human toll of conflict? With few independent observers in areas of conflict, journalists play an essential role in conveying the costs of war, its impact on local communities, and holding conflict actors to account.

The reporters who undertake this work confront challenges that go beyond navigating violence and chaos on the ground. The best among them also make sense of complex historical and political contexts; they pick up new languages and dialects; they ethically interview vulnerable populations; they resist sensationalist narratives and misinformation; they clear incessant logistical and bureaucratic hurdles; and they learn how to adapt when, inevitably, things don’t go as planned.

In this course, students will gain a sound framework for reporting in conflict zones in the contemporary media landscape. Over 14 classes, we’ll read, watch and deconstruct some of the best pieces of conflict reporting over the last decade, often going behind the scenes with the reporters themselves. Key themes include:

  • Preparing For Conflict Reporting
  • Safety & Security
  • Developing Contacts
  • Learning Local & Historical Context
  • Identifying Misinformation
  • Collecting Data On The Ground
  • Ethical Minefields
  • Sensitive Interviewing
  • Going Beyond Conflict
  • The Economics Of Foreign Reporting
  • Dealing With The Unexpected

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.