Introduction to journalism

A course at the Pratt Institute’s Writing for Publication, Performance and Media program

Taught by Borzou Daragahi

 

About the class

This course is primarily a workshop to establish and improve students’ non-fiction writing skills. We’ll focus on writing as a way to explore and explain the events, people and cultural artifacts surrounding us. Among the subjects and skills to which students will be introduced: basic journalism concepts, reporting tools, conducting interviews, coming up with story ideas and resolving ethical dilemmas. Some of the assignments will be fun! Students will write reviews of television shows and rock bands. Students will also have to write a profile as well as a long-form magazine story. We’ll use Christopher Scanlan’s “Reporting and Writing: Basics for the 21st Century” as our guide for absorbing the fundamentals of news gathering and reporting. We’ll also read and discuss many examples of well-written (and perhaps poorly written) articles published in newspapers, magazines and on the Internet. We’ll use the insights and critiques of students, guest speakers and the instructor to come up with ways to weave creativity and style as well as substance into our nonfiction writing.

 

About the instructor

Borzou Daragahi, a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New School University, has worked as an editor and writer for daily and weekly newspapers, monthly magazines and an Internet site. He is currently a staff writer at Money magazine. He has also taught journalism at Purchase College of the State University of New York.

 

Please call me Professor or Mr. Daragahi. My email address is borzou@aol.com.

 

Grading

Each assignment will be graded on punctuality (late assignments will be penalized), quality and neatness. But most importantly, each assignment will be graded on how much effort and thought was put into it. Grades will be determined as follows: 90 or higher=A, 80 or higher=B, 70 or higher=C, and 60 or higher=D.

 

Your grades will be comprised of:

 

Attendance

15 percent (Subtract 1 point for one absence, 3 points for two absences, 5 points for three absences, 10 points for four, 15 points for five, 20 points for six. More than six absences and you fail the class.) If you’re consistently tardy, I’ll deduct points from your attendance grade.

Assignment 1/television review

10 percent

Assignment 2/band profile

10 percent

Assignment 3/TBA

10 percent

Mid-term/profile of a real person

20 percent

Final/TBA

35 percent

Extra credit/breaking news story

5 percent

 

 

 

Course schedule

Subject to change: check periodically at http://www.borzou.com/intro.htm for updates

Class I,

Monday, Sept. 10, 2001

                                        

Discussion: Introductions; journalism, news, media, fact and opinion; skim through Chapter 1 of the textbook.

Assignments

  • Read Chapter 1 of textbook: “News thinking in a changing world.”
  • Read through the packet of television reviews.
  • Write a 250 to 350-word review comparing Salon.com and Slate.com. Read through some of the original articles. On Salon.com, be careful not to confuse the news articles pumped in from the wire services with the original content featured in the main well. Please email me your pieces by Sunday and bring a printed copy to class.
  • Bring a copy of the Sept. 17, 2001 New York Times to  next class.

 

Class II

Monday, Sept. 17, 2001

Hand in your website reviews.

 

 

Discussion: Attributions, paragraphs and grammar; a walk through the New York Times; a note on the value of critique.

Assignments

  • Write a 600 to 900-word review of a television show. Email it to me before class next week.
  • Read Chapter 2 of textbook: “Reporting and writing tools.”

 

Class III

Monday, Sept. 24, 2001

Hand in your television review

 

Discussion: Typos, misspellings and incorrect prepositions; the importance of turning in clean copy.

Assignments

  • Based on comments and instruction in class, rewrite the television show review to hand in for a grade next week.
  • Read Chapter 3 of textbook: “A process approach to reporting and writing.”
  • Read packet of readings profiling celebrities.

 

Class IV

Monday, Oct. 1, 2001

Hand in your assignment 1/television review for grade.

 

Discussion: Possible guest speaker: TBA; How do you bring color to non-fiction writing?

Assignments

  • Read Chapter 4 of textbook: “Finding and writing a lead.”
  • Reread packet of readings profiling celebrities.
  • Research and write a 600 to 900-word (or longer) piece profiling a musician or rock band or other celebrity. Try to come up with a colorful lead that captures the essence of the performer, politician or artist.

 

Class V

Monday, Oct. 8, 2001

Hand in your assignment 2/celebrity profile for grade.

 

Discussion: The query letter; adding meat—numbers and substance—to your articles.

Assignments

  • Read Chapter 5 of textbook: “Story form: shaping the news.”
  • Read packet of sample query letters.
  • Track down someone on or off campus doing something interesting with their lives. Write a 150 to 300-word query letter to making a “pitch” to profile this person for your mid-term assignment.

 

Class VI

Monday, Oct. 15, 2001

Hand in your query letter

 

Discussion: Meeting of the editorial board: profiles; the importance of the “nut” graph;

Assignments

  • Read Chapter 6 of textbook: “Learning to listen: building interviewing skills.”
  • Read handout on conducting interviews.
  • If you haven’t already, begin interviewing, hanging out with, researching, your profile candidate. Bring your notes to class next week.

 

Class VII

Monday, Oct 22, 2001

Discussion: Reports on progress and status of your assignment.

Assignments

  • Using the skills and insights we’ve gained in class, write a 1,500 to 2,000-word profile of someone on or off-campus doing something interesting. Creating a portrait in print, capturing someone’s essence and spirit, is a difficult literary challenge. Though hard, the process is simple. The more energy you spend interviewing, researching or simply hanging out with the person, the easier the writing will be. Your grade will be determined by the quantity of time you spent on the assignment as well as the quality of the work. The more people you interview, the higher your grade will be.

 

Class VIII

Monday, Oct. 29, 2001

Hand in your mid-term assignment for grade.

 

Discussion: Thinking like a journalist; coming up with story ideas; final projects and assignment 3.

Assignments

  • Read Chapter 10 of textbook: “First Assignments”
  • Come up with five ideas for assignment 3 and write a paragraph on each one. Can be a review of a movie or a story, or an article about a political or social event or issue on or off campus. Your grade will be higher if your piece includes interviews or some sort of on-the-scene angle.
  • Happy Halloween!

 

Class IX

Monday, Nov. 5, 2001

Hand in your assignment 3 ideas

 

Discussion: Guest speaker: Tara George, former reporter at the Daily News

Discussion: Meeting of the editorial board. 

  • Read Chapter 11 of textbook: “Doing the right thing: libel, privacy, and ethics.”
  • Begin reporting, researching and writing assignment 3.
  • Write a paragraph about four or five ideas you’d like to do for your final, a 4,000 to 5,000-word article based on interviews, research and on-the-scene observation. The story must be doable; small enough in scale so that you can complete it in the allotted time. Keep it local. Keep it real. Timeliness, a so-called news angle, helps. Come up with a simple methodology. Your final could be anything from a day at the track, with interviews of gamblers and statistics about the economics of the gaming industry, to an article about refugees from war-torn Sierra Leone making a life in Brooklyn, with interviews of refugees and comments from experts on East Africa. The ideal topic: A week in the life of a nearby homeless shelter or a soup kitchen.

 

Class X

Monday, Nov. 12, 2001

Hand in your finals ideas

 

Discussion: Guest speaker: Joshua Mills, former editor at the New York Times and dean of Baruch College School of Business Journalism; meeting of the editorial board: finals ideas.

  • Read Chapter 12 of textbook: “Storytelling on deadline.”
  • Finish reporting, researching and writing assignment 3 to turn in for a grade.
  • Start seriously thinking about and perhaps sketching a query letter for your finals idea.

 

Monday, Nov. 19, 2001

Hand in your assignment 3/tba for grade

 

Discussion: Guest speaker: Jon Gertner, senior editor at Money magazine; writing a long-form piece as a series of short pieces—a walk through a long article.

Assignment

  • Read Chapter 13 of textbook: “On the beat”
  • Read packet of longer magazine articles.
  • Write a 300 to 500-word (or more) query letter detailing what you’d like to do for your final.

 

Class XI

Monday, Nov. 26, 2001

Hand in your query letter

 

Discussion: Your final. One-on-one and group workshop.

Assignment

  • Begin reporting and researching your final project; bring all of your materials to class next week and the week after.

 

Class XII

Monday, Dec. 3, 2001

Bring in your final work thus far

 

Discussion: Your final. One-on-one and group workshop; building an outline.

Assignment

  • Continue reporting and researching your final project
  • Begin writing your final.

 

Class XIII

Monday, Dec. 10, 2001

Bring in your final work thus far

 

Bring your final work thus far

Discussion: Your final. One-on-one and group workshop.

Assignment

  • Finish writing your final.

 

Class XIV

Monday, Dec. 17, 2001

Hand in your final project

 

Goodbye and pizza.

Discussion: Selling your piece; skim through chapter 15 of textbook: “Getting—and keeping—a job;”