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.

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.

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.

Business and Economic Reporting

This seminar is designed to provide students with a basic understanding of how the economy and financial markets work and the role of a business reporter in monitoring these vital sectors. By the end of the semester, students should have the tools to write interesting stories about business and finance; search and report through observation, interviews and documents; verify the reliability of information and interpret and integrate numbers, statistics and financial data into stories.  Students will read current and historic business stories, with an eye toward understanding what makes articles transcend the industry or sector they examine. We will cover effective methods for conceiving and pitching stories, identifying and interviewing sources and writing with narrative scope and pinpoint accuracy. Several class sessions will include guest speakers from major business and general-interest news organizations.

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.

China Seminar

Global interest in China is immense and likely to grow. This course helps prepare students to report successfully from the most populated nation in the world by delving into Chinese politics, history, economy and society. Though China is the focus, the techniques of preparation – which include pitching and developing three to four articles – will serve journalists tackling reporting in nearly any country. This intensive course is dynamic, changing each year to accommodate and incorporate new academic works and current events. Students can expect to read about one book a week. They will gain the unique opportunity to learn and report in a classroom regularly shared by Chinese nationals, people of Chinese descent or Chinese speakers, as well as others who are simply interested in learning about China. Students are paired together for reporting projects, allowing teams to report effectively on China from New York. Many graduates of this course have gone on to report from China and the surrounding region.

City Newsroom

The students in City Newsroom will cover all of New York City. They’ll operate, manage, edit and contribute to a live news site: NYCityLens.com. The course is set up to give students hands-on experience running a news site and to hone their skills in reporting and producing ambitious stories in all formats. Students will cover breaking news, develop features, dig into deeper stories and shoot and edit videos. Its goal: to let students cover stories in the medium best suited to tell a particular story. We will focus on five areas: breaking news, crime and justice, culture and art, New York’s immigrant population and politics and policy. Students will pitch stories every week to perfect their pitching skills. We expect everyone in the newsroom to produce a specific number of stories: eight print stories, five videos or a to-be-determined combination of both. The instructors are skilled in video storytelling, digital and print. The course runs over two days: Thursday and Friday. Story meetings and screenings of class work are held during the afternoons of those days and attendance is mandatory. If you love covering news, want to improve your storytelling skills in multiple formats and welcome the challenge of reporting on this city in depth, this is the class for you.

Students who wish to do video in this class will be charged a $275 lab fee.

Covering Education

The course introduces students to the rich landscape of education reporting, a beat that can encompass everything from politics, business, culture and juvenile justice to teen violence and the art and science of learning. Students have the opportunity to embed for the semester in a New York City public high school, middle school or charter school, cultivating sources, ideas and knowledge. Seminar time will be devoted to a combination of history, ethics, ideas and debate with leaders in the field. Guests include Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Alex Kotlowitz, Nikole Hannah Jones and others. An emphasis will be on reporting, writing and producing news, a narrative feature, a class project and an ambitious, longform story outside the embed school. The aim is to publish on our www.school-stories.org site, as well as with our partner news organizations: ny.chalkbeat.org and New York Times/Schoolbook.org. Students in the course may qualify for the post-graduate Teacher Project fellowship and a paid internship for the Hechinger Report. Check out the work of former classes.

Covering Religion

Covering Religion aims at preparing students to write about religion for secular media outlets. Thanks to a generous grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation, the class travels each year to different countries for a week-long study trip to look at how religion is practiced and influences society. In past years, the class has gone to Israel, Jordan and the West Bank; Ireland and Northern Ireland; Russia and Ukraine; India and Italy. The study-tour takes place over the spring break and at no cost to students. In addition to writing assignments, each student makes an oral presentation in class about the coverage of his or her “faith beat.” While still in New York, students select and begin to report on the stories that they want to cover while abroad. Upon the return from the study trip, students write and produce the stories that they worked on while traveling. The course is open to all M.S. students, both part-time and full-time and from all concentrations. 

Follow the covering religion blog to learn about the places where we've traveled.

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.

Food Writing

The food beat is a diverse one that covers culture and family, politics, health and science, immigration, business, or simply food, from Hudson Valley apples to the global corn crop. Food journalism requires vigorous reporting and offers rich opportunities for both data-driven and observational work; it supports the investigative journalist as well as the feature writer. This course introduces you to the myriad ways you can report on what we eat, whether it’s a feature on an ethnic cuisine or a story about a farmer who’s growing what she hopes will be the next kale. A multimedia class project called “New York Sits Down to Dinner” will focus this year on hunger in NYC and involve data research and added video/photo training to complement the print stories. Visit www.nytable.com to see what last year's class produced.

Students who wish to do video in this class will be charged a $275 lab fee.

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.

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. 

Longform Digital: The Memory Project

This class is a writing laboratory. It is built upon the written word and is designed for students whose goal is to write ambitious narrative nonfiction. At a time when the centuries-old wall between writers and readers is collapsing, when gatekeepers no longer have sole say about what will be published, the creative possibilities for writers of narrative nonfiction have never been greater. And yet, even as the weight of convention and form fall aside, writers are left to ask: How can I tell the stories I need to tell and how can I find a (paying) audience for my work?

This spring’s class takes William Faulkner’s words – “Memory believes before knowing remembers” – and applies them to journalism. Students will be asked to take a memory, their own or someone else’s, and then report – and tell – the story that lies behind and perhaps beyond that memory. It is one thing to recall and another to learn what happened and why. The class will produce a project called “The Memory Project.” Students will be expected to identify and connect with audiences for their work. 

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

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.

 

The course follows naturally from the half-semester Business of Journalism fall class, though that is not a prerequisite as some part-time M.S. students, M.A. or outside students might not have taken it. This class builds in much more detail around revenue and expenses, strategy and learning how to manage change, diversity and crises.

Our goal is to help you understand media firms – those we know of and those that don’t yet exist, or those that you may create – and to appreciate how business imperatives intersect closely with the kind of journalism you and your colleagues can expect to do.

Our class will also give you background to do better journalism about business, including essentials like how to read balance sheets and income statements. It does not provide the level of detail about business and economics coverage as some other seminars.

Students will be expected to prepare each week for class and will do two major assignments. The first is a group project in which you will prepare a presentation, as if to a CEO or a group of venture capital investors, on an important trend affecting the news business. The second is an individual project: a narratively driven story that could appear on the cover of Fortune magazine, the front page of the WSJ or the feature slot on CNBC, describing how a media business is faring. Expect a great deal of feedback on the first project and a similar amount of editing on the second.

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.