Classes

Please note: The classes listed here represent recent offerings at the Journalism School. These include M.S. and M.S. in Data Journalism courses, except for those that are specifically designated as 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.

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.

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 to apply them to your own. The first few 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 and character. The remaining weeks proceed through a series of more specific technical issues using dialogue, choosing and depicting characters, compressing and expanding time, managing transitions, providing historical context and establishing a voice.

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.

Narrative Writing: The Rise and Fall Story

Like the profile, the rise-and-fall story is a durably popular genre of magazine and newspaper writing, as well as magazine broadcast journalism and documentary filmmaking. This course will teach you how to identify, report and write with verve such a time-honored narrative. The genre’s typical story arc is as old as Greek and Elizabethan tragedy. It involves, usually, a woman or man in public life who enjoys success, succumbs to hubris and is laid low. In modern times, such a reader-friendly story might evolve out of a murder trial, an insider trading indictment, a high-flying Silicon Valley bankruptcy or the firing of the first female editor of The New York Times. We will break down and diagram magazine-length examples of the genre such as Jim Stewart’s recent New Yorker epic on the collapse of one of the world’s largest law firms. We will learn how to map out a story’s chronology; how to choose a lead and then drive toward a narrative climax; and how to interview and report from multiple sources so as to serve writing that is brisk, well-ordered, accessible, character-driven and enlivened by specific scenes and dialogue. Each student will pitch a rise-and-fall story of 2,500-3,000 words that can be reported in the time available and will draft and redraft as we learn and discuss the form.

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.

Storytelling for the Ear

Section 1: Ann Cooper
Section 2: Daniel Alarcon

Whether we are listening to them or reading them, stories told for the ear engage us, hold our attention and make us "see" the story. Driven by strong, clear narrative writing, these stories capture our imagination. They are intimate and compelling. The writing is conversational and active. The scenes are vivid and memorable. From Edward R. Murrow’s account of entering Buchenwald in 1945, to Sarah Koenig’s 2014 Serial podcast, journalists who write for the ear have always been among our most powerful storytellers.

This class explores the qualities of the best audio storytelling and the ways it differs from, and is similar to, writing for print, online or video. For some assignments, students will record interviews and use them in producing audio scripts. These assignments complement, but do not duplicate, audio courses in the Sound and Image module. The level of technical skills required are no more than what all students have learned in the August digital skills training – recording and mixing a basic story with written narration and actuality from interviews. Storytelling for the Ear is not a prerequisite for any course, though the writing style taught in this class will make all of your writing stronger. it will be especially useful for students planning careers in broadcast journalism, whether radio, television or documentary.

The Art of the Profile

Writing profiles means writing about people, bringing them to life on the page. Profiles often begin with physical descriptions and so will we. These passages don’t come easily without practice; we’ll study examples from Dickens, from classic journalists (McPhee, Trillin and Liebling) and from young journalists (Ben McGrath, Lauren Collins and Nick Paumgarten).  We’ll learn to use physical descriptions in pitch letters to editors (there’s no better way to let an editor know that you can write) and in the stories that result from the pitches (there’s no better way to make a reader care about the person you’re reporting on). 

Once we’ve gained fluency, we’ll move on to questions of organization, structure, suspense, mystery – every human being is a mystery – and ultimately, a 3,000-word magazine-length profile. We’ll have guests to advise us on how to win the trust of a subject. (Every reporter does it differently; you’ll want to find the way that works with your particular set of charms). In class, we’ll read our work aloud, slowly, and pause over nearly every sentence. We’ll root out newspaper syntax, clichés, solecisms, hot air and tedious throat-clearing. And together, we’ll delight in the classroom miracles that can result from sheer concentration on writing well.

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 Narrative Journalism of Social Fault Lines

This workshop is about writing longform narrative journalism based on deep reporting on social issues – 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 Bill Vollmann. Stories must have a news hook. Students will engage in shoe leather journalism. Reporting rules apply for literary journalism and then some. If your piece is five times longer than a hard news story on a topic, it should have five times as much reporting. The result will be longform journalism that could appear in The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Harper's or online sites, such as Narratively and the Big Roundtable, or in a book.

Video Newsroom

Tuesday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Wednesday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

So you want to be a globetrotting, foreign correspondent? A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times? An Emmy Award-winning producer for Vice or CNN? A feature writer for Vanity Fair? No matter what your aspirations, you will have to work efficiently under deadlines. With practice, practice and more practice, this class will teach you techniques and cultivate a mindset that will enable you to succeed when reporting, writing and/or producing under tight deadlines. You will learn to turn your deadline anxiety into adrenaline – and to enjoy the process.

You will pitch stories every Monday night for coverage the next day. On Tuesday mornings you will head to the field to report and/or shoot your story. These assignments replicate what you would be likely to cover for a mainstream media organization: breaking news, local and state politics, press conferences, follow-ups to news stories as well as short features. You will file your story on Tuesday and begin editing with one-on-one help from the professors. On Wednesday mornings we will meet as a class for a seminar. You will learn the techniques and strategies necessary for reporting, producing, shooting, editing and writing under deadline. In the afternoon you will work with the professors to bring your story to broadcast or printable quality.

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

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.

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