2016 - Fall
Honors – Print Long Form Bias
Course Number: JOUR-UA 351.02
Day & Time: Wed 2:00pm-4:30pm
Location: 20 Cooper Square, 652
Instructor: Robert S. Boynton
CONTEXT AND MAIN OBJECTIVE
Our objective over the course of this year, I hope, is already clear: We are going to produce a piece of heavily reported, gorgeously crafted long-form journalism in the narrative, expository, or investigative style as the equivalent of an academic senior honors thesis. It’s as simple as that. If you were writing an honors thesis for your companion major in CAS, it would need to be something like 40 to 60 pages with full citations. In Journalism, we do this differently, with respect to common journalistic practice. We write for the sophisticated general reading public, not for academics, but we also want to present work that reflects a scholar’s knowledge and intent but that is produced to engage readers with our research and writing in the journalistic way.
You will find that this course is is likely not the same as other classes you have taken. It’s more of an organized tutorial in a group setting, sometimes with individual conferences, too. It is built to a large extent to address any lacks you feel. I will endeavor to fill those gaps as effectively as possible.
Earlier groups have reported devoting anywhere from 10 to 20 hours a week to this project. Most enjoyed the freedom of being able to choose their own subjects as they delighted and agonized about pursuing their stories maniacally for a solid year. Students have especially liked the challenge and freedom of writing at significant length. There is always joy and frenzy in producing the magazine and we will experience that, too.
EXPLOITING AND VERIFYING YOUR KNOWLEDGE
It is not a requirement, but I strongly encourage you to draw your subject however broadly from the learning you are doing in your companion major. We will talk more about that.
We will also produce a fact-checking research and citation list that shows the academic research we have done on the topic, the interviews we have conducted, the published work we will be referring to or citing, and the other writers and researches we have examined to inform our thinking.
It goes without saying that I expect the highest journalistic standard and that no form of plagiarism, falsification or fabrication of any kind will be tolerated.
The expected length of this piece will be a minimum of 6,000 words and a maximum of 9,000 words. Your model? Long-form pieces in the Atlantic, Harper’s, The New Yorker, Esquire, and the like. In previous classes, student stories have been published as is, in excerpt, or re-fashioned into go-to blogs and reflective personal pieces.
Here’s our zine to help you know where we are headed and where your work will appear no matter what:
If the prospects for publication are good, we will “password protect” to keep the work off search engines until you are ready to release it. Once released, we will re-post it on our site with a link to the other url.
You’ll note these pieces were illustrated with handsome slide shows and with a fashion video (Wu) in one case. You will need to produce and/or provide (with permission) multimedia elements to enhance your work, so you need to plan this as you go. For that reason, we will complete our final drafts by the end of March so that we have April to produce our multimedia accompaniments. And also for that reason, have a camera at the ready when you’re out reporting. If you don’t already have a good tape recorder with a USB connection, you’ll want one.
THE CLASS BLOG/BEATNOTES
We will blog every week for ourselves, privately, with an 8 pm deadline the night before class. We do this on my Basecamp site, http://bknyu.basecamphq.com, where I will enroll you. This is a variation on the time-honored journalistic tradition of producing weekly “beat notes.” Offering these to each other will also encourage you to exercise your writing voice while it keeps you focused on our long-term goal by picking away at the story week after week. Benign accountability. These beat notes should be well-crafted and engaging. They should reflect the week’s street reporting, interviewing, reading, scholarly conversations, and reflections – whatever gives flesh to your ideas and helps you focus in on the writing to come. For me and for your classmate, they have the important side benefit of keeping the rest of us current with your progress. It helps us know about the challenges you encounter and where we might have helpful suggestions. It helps me to see where there are common issues we can address in class. Being generous about the work of others enables others to be generous about yours, so we will devote time regularly to each other. You will find yourself called upon to do this throughout your professional careers, so we may as well start now. As to blogging publicly about your work, or creating a Tumblr or whatnot — your choice. One student has done this in the past. Most choose to keep their findings under wraps until they publish. Likewise, I’ve not yet had a student who tweeted about his or her subject area during the year, but I’m open to that. All of this is your choice and we can discuss the pros and cons. We will also decide as a group how private or public we want our group effort as a class to be as it unfolds.
INSPIRATIONAL BUT CRITICAL READING
We will study the work of the greats for inspiration and for craft. Most classes will involve time spent studying the work of the great long-form narrative journalists, current and past. Sometimes I will invite you to invite your heroes in to talk with us, or I will ask you to interview them on our behalf and share what you learn with the rest of the group. I will suggest pieces for us to read (some great, some not-so) to help us set our own standards. We will analyze together what we admire and what we don’t, using a method called “Charting” to help you understand the critical importance of structure. It’s important to do the readings ahead of time, please. Sometimes I hope you will make suggestions growing out of your own research and reporting.
EXERCISES IN NARRATIVE TECHNIQUE
We will do exercises in narrative technique that will come weekly as part of your BeatNote assignment. I will be encouraging you in a variety of ways to work with a bagful of literary devices. The most common errors of your predecessors have been trite phrase and word choice, indiscriminate use of the passive voice, appositive pile-ups, and the squandering of the element of suspense. Think about these and try to self-edit them out before we see your weekly posts.
We will apply for DURF grants to support our research. I will work with you closely on these. The deadline comes at a very convenient time of the year in helping us to hone our ideas and pinpoint exactly what we are going after. This class traditionally has had a very good success rate with the DURF judges.
ONE FALL ARTICLE ASSIGNMENT
In addition to our blogs, we will do one major (minor compared to the thesis) reporting-writing assignment in the Fall term. Your query will be due the second week in November and your story will be due the day before Thanksgiving break, so that you can have a real break and I have time to edit the pieces, giving us time to discuss them in class and you time to rewrite them before the term ends. We call these “Element” pieces. They will emanate from your overall research and reporting and come in at 1200-1500 words. They will not be a capsule version of the Honors project, but only an element of it that you are ready to develop by the time we are working on it. It could be a profile of one of the protagonists or even one of the minor figures in your story. It could be a closer look at one of the institutions that show up in your reporting. It could be the development of a trend that works into your overall piece. The idea is to exercise your writing muscle in a structured form and to produce something that deepens your understanding of the overall subject matter and moves you along to the bigger goal. Many of these have ended up as a section of the big piece; others just provide background that helps you write with more fluidity and comprehension once we get to February. If you pick your subject right, it could be publishable on its own. That has happened.
TYPICAL CLASS SCHEDULE
Our class is 2 ½ hours long. Typically, I will go over the Beatnotes to point out issues I’m seeing that relate to everyone’s work generally. Often, we will dissect one or two of them for particular points that will hopefully be helpful to everyone. Everyone will get a chance over the course of the term to be in the hot seat. We will discuss the reading assignment, have a methods lab exercise (emanating from issues we see emerging) or a guest writer/editor/speaker to whom we can pitch our work. In the second term, we will have weeks where we are in private conference. This can only happen, of course, when the work is in solid draft.
I will post the readings and the timetable for the following week the evening prior to the following week’s class. The choices have to be built out of your needs as they emerge, so bear with me on this. There is method!
STORY QUERIES AND DRAFTS
For your story queries and drafts, when we get to that, I might ask you to use the “Writeboard” function of Basecamp, or, at times we will use Google Docs, which is great for collaborative editing. I will let you know which and will give you a tutorial so you can make maximum use of their wonders.