First-Year Studies: Is Journalism What We Think It Is?

This is a course from a previous year. View the current courses

This class will both investigate journalism as a social, cultural, and historical phenomenon and employ journalism as a practice by which to encounter the world. We will immerse ourselves in journalism’s intricacies and complexities, its strengths and faults, and come to understand it not only as a working trade and history’s first draft but also as a literary art in its own right—one with as many deep imperatives and as rich a tradition as poetry or fiction. We will survey the best (and a little bit of the worst) of short- and long-form journalism and, over the course of the year, craft everything from brief profiles to ambitious investigative pieces. How does a writer know which details to highlight and which to subordinate? What is the nature of good interviewing technique? How does one interview a willing source as opposed to a resistant one? When should one write concisely, and when is it appropriate to expatiate? What are the ways in which a journalist interacts with, and runs the danger of contaminating, his or her subject? We will ask and answer these and many other questions and spend significant time puzzling out the ways in which fundamental journalistic practice leaps from print to television to new media. Prominent journalists will be invited to talk to us and tell us what they do. Readings will range from H. L. Mencken, George Orwell, Janet Malcolm, Joseph Mitchell, and Truman Capote to Joseph Roth.