2014 - Spring: The Beat: NY Characters

Course Number: JOUR-UA 201.004

Day & Time: Th 2:30pm - 6:10pm

Location: 20 Cooper, room 657

Instructor: Vivien Orbach-Smith

Prerequisites:  Inquiry

This course is designed to hone the student journalist’s ability to research and report deeply and to be able to imagine and develop fresh ideas, test them with the strength of his or her reporting and resarch, and then to present them in story form. Students will be expected to keep weeky beat notes or blogs, exploring what is current in the topic and demonstrating week after week the shoeleather they have worn in pursuit of their subject matter. Out of this work will come four or five stories in narrative, explanatory or investigative style, depending on the instructor and the specific assignment. Syllabi differ by content of the course but all sections emphasize idea development, interview technique, reporting, background research and writing skills across genres. Broadcast sections vary only by medium.

New York was commonly referred to as a “melting pot” throughout much of the previous
century, but with the surge in multiethnic and multicultural identities among its inhabitants, the
“stew-pot” or “tossed salad” has emerged as the current paradigm. In this intensive skills
course, you will learn how to report on one of the most fascinating aspects of New York: its
stunningly diverse people. You will be required to declare a beat and immerse yourself in a
subject area you are passionate about – New Yorkers in entertainment, in the arts, in politics, in
race relations, in religion, in sports, in education, in the fields of fashion/restaurants/
commerce/media and so on. These New Yorkers may be “ordinary folks” or luminaries,
individuals who are extremely successful in their fields or who are struggling to overcome
serious challenges, born-and-bred New Yorkers or part of the immigrant tapestry that lends
color and vibrancy to our city. You will be guided in coming up with and pursuing great, fresh
story ideas within your beat, in writing five pieces (four shorter ones and one more-in-depth
final), and in finding venues to submit them. The goal is learning how to craft strong, captivating
stories featuring memorable New York characters and settings – with emphasis upon
resourceful newsgathering and interviewing; responsible presentation of facts and events; vivid
character development, color and detail; coherent structure, impeccable mechanics, and artful
language. You will be encouraged to not only strengthen your reporting/writing skills, but to
broaden your perspective (and your fellow students’) about the varied cultural/socioeconomic
milieus of your subjects.

This class will provide you with opportunities to write stories that are genuinely publishable, on
subjects that genuinely interest you. You will be encouraged to write creatively and gorgeously,
and even to try to change the world…but your product must retain the clarity, concision and
precision that were drummed into you in Reporting I/II, stopping far short of “fan-like,” gushy
prose, blinding passions or fictional license