Classes | Page 2 | 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.

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.

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 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.

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.

Writing Social Justice 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.

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