2014 - Fall

Advanced Reporting: Hidden New York: Where the Wild Things Are

Course Number: JOUR-UA 301, Section 004

Day & Time: Monday 10:00am-1:40pm

Location: 20 Cooper Square, room 652

Instructor: Keith Kloor

Prerequisites: Foundations, The Beat

This is the Capstone course. Subject matter varies from section to section, but the basic skeleton of the course is the same across sections: the emphasis is on development of the ability to produce writing and reporting within a sophisticated longform story structure. The course involves query writing, topic research and reading, interviewing, and repeated drafts and rewrites, leading to a full-length piece of writing aimed at a publishable level and the ability of the student to present the reporting orally.

Urban nature would seem an oxymoron, especially in a densely crowded, frenetic place like New York City. Yet recent studies have shown that great concentrations of biodiversity are found in cities. How can that be?

The truth is that nature abounds in many cities, including New York. In fact, wild creatures and untamed jungles can be found in all five boroughs of New York—if you know where to look. There are hawks that dive-bomb pigeons, rare butterflies, occasional coyotes, marshes, beaches, and even old growth forests, all sharing space with eight million New Yorkers.

The city also boasts some of the earliest urban planning experiments that incorporated nature in a residential, urban environment: “Sunnyside Gardens” and “Forest Hills,” both in Queens. These innovative projects date from the early 20th century and were part of a larger movement called “Garden Cities,” which originated in England. But by the 1960s, another social movement, known as environmentalism, rose to prominence. It spawned a larger interest in ecology and advanced the notion that nature and cities were incompatible.

In recent years, however, ecologists have paid increasing attention to urban environments. For the last decade, two major, multi-disciplinary studies in Baltimore, Maryland and in Tucson, Arizona, have been cataloguing flora and fauna. Among the findings is the surprising diversity of species that have been attracted to urban micro-ecosystems. It is these hidden ecosystems in New York, where similar research is underway, that students will discover during their own reporting and research. There, they will find many opportunities for stories, uncovering the critters that have carved out a lush home in an otherwise concrete city; they will also encounter many fascinating characters that embrace this wild side of New York; and they will report on the various issues often pit nature against the city.

There will be three major writing assignments: a 750-word profile, 1,500-word mini-feature, and 3,000-word feature. Additionally, there will be a class blog for students to post short dispatches from the field. In today’s multi-platform world, journalists at newspapers and magazines are expected to write for both the print publication and the website.

There will be numerous field trips, potentially to places like Jamaica Bay, Prospect Park, and a canoe ride down the Bronx River. 

My background as an environmental journalist and NYC magazine editor will be valuable to students as we embark on our journey through New York’s wild side.  In my own reporting, I’ve written about everything from New York’s garbage history to where to find edible foods in city parks. The city’s ecology was also part of my beat when I was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine for nearly ten years.