2016 - Fall

The Beat: Where the Wild Things Are

Course Number: JOUR-UA 201, Section 003

Day & Time: Thurs 4:55pm-8:35pm

Location: 20 Cooper Square, room 653

Instructor: Keith Kloor

Prerequisites: Foundations, 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.

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.