Classes

Please note: The classes listed here represent recent offerings at the Journalism School. All are M.S. 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.

Human Rights Reporting

This class immerses students in the complex field of human rights coverage and pushes them to discover, understand and expose pressing, underreported human rights issues around the world. Students are encouraged to look beyond mainstream, traditional coverage of conflict and politics and tap into areas where gross inequality and human violations are at play. The semester includes coverage of the UN’s central role in governing global human rights and will also feature lectures from human rights experts, visits from reporters and researchers from human rights organizations who are documenting abuses. Students will learn the basic tenets of human rights law and international enforcement bodies. The class will look at current crises, such as the massive migration of refugees to Europe from conflict and repression, from a human rights perspective. Student reporters will read original texts as well as five journalistic books on human rights. They will also pitch, develop and write stories on human rights issues abroad and within the United States.

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: 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 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.

Investigating Health Care

Exploding prescription drug prices. A mental health system in crisis. Consumers struggling to afford their health insurance premiums. These are among the issues that make taking this course in the spring semester such a great opportunity. You will learn how to navigate one of journalism's most complicated beats, all with an investigative reporter's eye. Individual classes will focus on hospitals, health professionals, our aging society, controversies in medicine, insurance companies, health reform and the pharmaceutical industry. We will also dissect the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The course will explore many issues beyond health care, including politics, consumer affairs, finances, the law, ethics and demographics. Along the way, students will become skilled in using public records, understanding bureaucratic agencies and querying databases that can be used on practically any beat. Class assignments will require use of investigative skills, interviewing techniques and interaction with bureaucracies. You will work hard in this class but may leave with clips published in major U.S. media outlets. 

Investigative Project

This course will explore the mission, methods and history of investigative reporting, as seen through a semester-long project examining a single subject. Our goal will be to build the foundation for a publishable, investigative article based on original research, not recycled government reports. You will learn how to find topics worthy of investigating, how to document wrongdoing and how to present your findings in narrative form. If all goes well, you will have the opportunity to experience the exhilaration of discovering long-buried secrets. We will use the team approach.

Investigative Techniques for Journalists

This class aims to ground students in some of the fundamental tools of investigative reporting: How to obtain and analyze public records and data; get information about individuals and groups using a variety of sources; use social media for reporting and verification; and evaluate scholarly literature.

Multiple instructors teach sections of this class.

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.

Journalistic Computing

This course unpacks the ways in which data, code and algorithms are reshaping systems of power in the world, training students to be better reporters and to hold the people and institutions behind these systems accountable. This critical view is made possible through rigorous training in data and computing, preparing students to use these tools in an expanded reporting practice that finds and tells new kinds of stories. Our main programming language for the class willl be Python. Each week, students will read and analyze examples of data and computing in service of journalism; and each week we will dig deeper into the technical skills behind such stories with small coding assignments that mix story and technology. The course will end with a final project, an "act of journalism," that might be a story, a data visualization or a new data set or algorithm.

The course is not simply introducing a new web framework for pulling data from a PDF, or a even a new programming language. Instead, we aspire to a rich kind of literacy around data and computing. By “literacy” we mean a trio of concepts – a functional literacy that prepares students to be creative with data and computing; a critical literacy that encourages students to think about data and computing as cultural artifacts; and a rhetorical literacy that highlights the persuasive power inherent in any technology and that casts system design as a social, rather than a purely technical, act. The course will add a uniquely journalistic voice, one that responds to the needs and talents of reporters and helps them find and tell stories in new ways.

Our goals in teaching this course are simple: 1) provide journalists with hands-on experience collecting, processing and analyzing data, 2) demystify the tools and methods behind computing, 3) supply sufficient background so that students might become creators of new technologies, transitioning from tool users to tool makers, and, perhaps most importantly, 4) teach students how to use data and computing, as both sources for finding stories, as well as platforms for telling new kinds of stories.

As mentioned above, our main programming language will be Python, however, we assume NO PRIOR CODING OR DATA KNOWLEDGE. All we ask is that you bring the same journalistic curiosity you have learned in the first half of the program to these new ways of storytelling. We'll take care of the rest.

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. 

M.A. Arts & Culture Seminar-in-Concentration

Students in the M.A. Arts & Culture concentration develop historical knowledge, contextual understanding and nimble thinking across a range of disciplines. Through reporting and writing assignments as well as extensive reading, case studies, site visits and collaborations with scholars and artists, students examine both the emotional force of the arts as well as how they function in social and political contexts and as commodities in a global marketplace.

Respected experts from Columbia and elsewhere often participate as teaching partners. Recent guests have included Jane Ginsburg, an expert on intellectual property at Columbia Law School; Frances Negron‐Muntaner, an expert in Latin‐American culture in Columbia’s English department; Shakespearean Jean Howard; cultural anthropology professor Paige West; religion professor Josef Sorett; and essayist Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah.

M.A. Business & Economics Seminar-in-Concentration

Students in the M.A. Business concentration master the three attributes of excellent economics reporting: a firm grasp of basic economic theory and institutions; hands‐on knowledge of data for measuring economic performance and assessing the validity of economic arguments; and the ability to find and report compelling stories. They also gain the analytical skill to conceive and execute high‐level stories about the business sector.

Students learn about accounting, corporate finance, securities and portfolio management, while staying firmly rooted in the journalistic process. We teach simple, fast and effective ways to break down complicated problems, locate relevant data and compensate for inherent biases.

Recent guest lecturers have included economists Bruce Greenwald and Ed McKelvey; Disney chief operating officer Thomas Staggs; New York Times reporter Louise Story; and CNBC host Jim Cramer.

M.A. Essentials

Investigative techniques are key to 21st century journalism. Students learn the best ways to comb public records, conduct internet forensics and do thorough background searches on individuals and corporations. They gain an understanding of cutting-edge concepts in data journalism and how to employ them in coverage of their concentrations. Multiple instructors teach sections of this class. 

M.A. Evidence and Inference

This fall M.A. course teaches a disciplined “journalistic method” of testing assumptions and hypotheses, recognizing the ways that stories can distort the truth and exploring how to make sure that reporting firmly proves its points.

Students also develop useful skills for working with statistics, conducting in-depth interviews and combining anecdote and narrative with the big picture in their writing.

M.A. Politics Seminar-in-Concentration

Students in the M.A. Politics concentration develop what every groundbreaking political journalist needs: a historical context for global political systems and institutions as well as the tools to analyze and understand stories and situations they might confront on the politics beat.

In the fall term, the seminar is organized around several themes: state formation; the rise of nationalism and ethno‐religious identity and conflict; the development of protest movements; social conflict and collective action; rights; the distribution of resources; and bargaining and negotiation. In the spring term, we go deeper into political institutions that exist almost everywhere: legislatures and bureaucracies, parties and interest groups, elections and agencies.

Recent guest lecturers have included Barnard political scientist Kimberley Johnson; Cornell behavioral economist Robert Frank; political strategist Howard Wolfson; and historian Mahmood Mamdani.

M.A. Science Seminar-in-Concentration

Students in the M.A. Science concentration focus on the themes and ways of thinking that can be used to cover any scientific field, whether it’s health, technology or the hard sciences. They examine several disciplines up close – including, physics, climate science and ecology in the fall, and evolution, genetics and medicine in the spring. Students also get a landscape view, looking at history, patterns of discovery and innovation. The seminar emphasizes understanding the culture and practice of science, giving students the skills to interpret a peer‐reviewed study as well as a clear‐eyed view of the peer‐review process. It places particular emphasis on writing creatively and compellingly, whether in a short news story or in a long piece of narrative nonfiction. Many of our most successful students come to the program without prior academic or professional exposure to the sciences; deep curiosity is far more important.

Recent guest lecturers have included physicist Imre Bartos, who worked on the gravitational wave discovery; paleoclimatologist Gisela Winckler; historian of science Daniel Kevles; and sociologist Alondra Nelson, dean of social sciences at Columbia.

M.S. Essentials: Business

The journalism business is in a period of historic flux. Many legacy models are eroding, while nascent business models show promise but often have not yet achieved stability or profitability. This is the world in which you will work, and it is both exciting and daunting.

Multiple instructors teach sections of this class.

 

To better prepare you for that world, we require M.S. students to take this course, as part of the Friday core that also includes law, ethics and history. We want you to understand the challenges, opportunities and vicissitudes of the journalism business, not just for your own career development, but also because we want you to be partners and innovators in determining new ways to secure the future of journalism. We want to get beyond the sound bites and explore the ways journalism could be funded during the course of your careers. We also hope you will understand more from this course about how businesspeople make decisions, which is important in whatever line of journalism you pursue. It is no longer acceptable for journalists to ignore the economics of their profession or leave the economic decisions entirely to the business folks.

M.S. Essentials: Ethics

This class is intended to equip every student with confidence about how to be an ethical journalist. Some of that will involve discussing and defining certain core rules and principles that every Journalism School graduate should understand and try to follow, while aspiring to professionalism. More of the class, however, will involve learning to recognize repetitious dilemmas in journalism that have no absolute solutions but must be reexamined case by case, each in its own context. Just as most newsrooms resolve the most difficult ethical dilemmas through transparent, collaborative discussion, our class will mainly turn on open discussion about shared readings that highlight the range of ethical issues that are most important and common to journalism. 

Multiple instructors teach sections of this class.

M.S. Essentials: History

Drawing on historical examples of the best work of print, broadcast and digital journalists – from the editorialist to the war correspondent, from the photojournalist to the New Journalist, from the muckraker to the blogger – this class explores the development of the values, practices, ethical standards, technological developments and social roles that cluster around the institution of journalism. The focus is on the evolution of the role and work of the American reporter within the context of global developments.

Multiple instructors teach sections of this class.

M.S. Essentials: Law

This course is designed to acquaint students with the basic protections and restrictions of the law as they apply to the media. Significant court cases and fundamental legal rules will be explored in the context of political and historical realities, and in terms of journalistic standards and practices; contemporary media law issues will also be focused on. Among the issues that will be examined are libel, invasion of privacy, prior restraints, newsgathering and newsgathering torts, copyright and the reporter’s privilege.

Multiple instructors teach sections of this class.

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.

Multi-Platform Design & Storytelling

Readers get their news from multiple platforms and today’s journalists must therefore learn to tell stories for and across these platforms. The industry is seeking qualified mobile editors. This course will focus on design (visual presentation) and storytelling (story structures and genres) for mobile, tablet, web and print. It will also cover issues of technology, advertising and other revenue strategies. Students will gain hands-on experience designing story prototypes for the major platforms, taking into account the unique characteristics of each. Emphasis will be on mobile platforms. The course will also include lectures by the instructor and guest speakers, readings and critical writing assignments on contemporary news organizations’ offerings. The final project will involve a single topic developed through a multimedia story. The course includes a basic Design Bootcamp component.