Required Reading from Journalism Professors

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Julia Wick is a native Angeleno who writes about literature, Los Angeles, and cities. She is currently finishing an Urban Planning degree at USC.

Below, six syllabi from journalism professors on what you should be reading. Are you teaching a course? Share yours in the comments below.

1. Journalism 494: Pollner Seminar In Narrative Non-Fiction With Esquire’s Chris Jones (University of Montana)

“The purpose of this course is to teach students how to write publishable magazine-length narrative non-fiction: In other words, my aim is to help you learn how to write good, long, true stories. The course outline will mirror a typical writer’s progress through the birth of an idea to a finished, polished piece, including reporting, writing, editing, and fact-checking. In addition to classroom discussion, course readings will help students understand the difference between good and bad work. My hope is that by the end of the semester, you will have written the Best Story of Your Life So Far (BSOYLSF) and it will help you reach your future potential as an award-winning literary journalist.”

2. Journalism 141: Professional Problems and Ethics in Journalism (by Philip Meyer, University of North Carolina)

“The subculture of journalism is no longer as confident of its success. 
Its old values are increasingly under question. The topic of this course
is therefore a moving target. We shall approach it with two organizing principles:

“A critical study of traditional journalistic values, the historical forces that created them. An evaluation of social and technological changes that threaten that subculture – and possibly its value system.”

3. Introduction to Literary Reportage (by Robert S. Boynton, NYU) (PDF)

“The goal of this course is to help you create a distinctive body of work and, eventually, a capstone piece of literary reportage. It has three basic components. First, it will guide you through the research, reporting and thinking to refine and focus the project you will begin in Portfolio I. Second, it will introduce you to some of the authors, editors and publications of the genre. Third, it will familiarize you with some of the journalistic strategies you will use in your own work.”

4. Journalism 676: Investigative Reporting With Pulitzer Prize-Winner Deborah Blum

“I’m happy to share a syllabus, although they’ve gotten more and more abbreviated over the last few years. That’s because, as you know, investigations never seem to follow a planned path. Basically these days, I just do an oral presentation and assignments and we build deadlines, etc. in to the semester, depending on where we are. We do a lot of oral reports and feedback in this class and in the last month of the semester, we start writing/fact-checking/filling in gaps based on the information we’ve assembled.”

5. Syllabus for Telling Stories: the Art of Narrative Non-Fiction (by Alex Kotlowitz, Dartmouth) (PDF)

“This course will explore the art of telling stories – true stories. The craft is often called Literary Journalism or Creative Nonfiction. The writer John McPhee calls it The Literature of Fact, which I prefer for its lack of pretention and for its lack of ambiguity. In this class, we’ll talk about finding story, about reporting and of course about writing, about how one goes about making sense of the tale at hand. I want to push people to find stories outside of the familiar. 
“It’s what makes this craft so exhilarating, to find yourself in places you’d never have reason to be or with people you’d never have reason to meet. What could be more exciting. More challenging.”

6. JOU 6309: Journalism as Literature – Fall 2009 (by Dr. Ronald Rogers, Rutgers)

“This course lies at the crossroads of journalism and literature. During the next 15 weeks we will explore the journalistic, historical and critical tangents that make up the notion of literary journalism as we read and analyze some of the best reportage ever written. In the process of reading the works of many fine journalists, we will weigh how form and content work together to create great factual literature.

“This course has a six-pronged approach. It is a smorgasbord of delectables – all, or any one of which, I hope, you will find tasty. We will explore:

“1. Literary journalism’s historical antecedents – or should we say founders?

“2. Literary journalism’s future in the age of the connected computer.

“3. The criticism literary journalism has received from friend and foe alike.

“4. The theory behind this genre.

“5. The techniques that comprise and define this genre.

“6. Ways of toppling the inverted pyramid in developing our own individual writing styles using the techniques of literary journalism.”

Bonus: What’s On Your Syllabus? (Nieman Storyboard)

Featuring Jacqui Banaszynski, Mark Bowden, Madeleine Blais, Robert Boynton, Jeff Sharlet and Rebecca Skloot.

Share your journalism syllabi in the comments below.


Photo: Seth Sawyers (Flickr)

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