2016 - Fall
Course Number: JOUR-GA 1281.001
Day & Time: Friday, 10:00am-1:40pm
Instructor: Katherine Zoepf
CRC Priority / Instructor Approval Required
Over the last five years, newspapers and magazines based in the United States have closed dozens of foreign bureaus; today, only a handful of publications maintain any kind of full-time overseas presence. Meanwhile, dwindling reporting budgets mean that U.S.-based writers seeking foreign assignments have an increasingly hard case to make. While all this is bad news for readers, it represents a tremendous opportunity for journalists with the energy and flexibility to strike out on their own abroad.
This course is intended for American students who are considering a stint reporting from overseas, as well as for students of other nationalities who would like to establish themselves writing for American outlets when they return home. We’ll examine the kinds of story ideas that, when you’re starting out, are most likely to set you apart from the competition and interest editors who aren’t yet familiar with your writing. We’ll address the tricky business of securing a stream of short-term, bread-and-butter assignments while also pursuing the kinds of complex stories that may require months or even years to report. We’ll discuss practical concerns, such as how to work most effectively with translators and fixers, and how to form and maintain good relationships with editors many time zones away. We’ll also survey the growing group of organizations that fund reporting projects overseas through fellowships and travel grants.
Perhaps most important, we’ll read some of the most exciting new writing from overseas, all of it by journalists who got their start freelancing abroad. We’ll consider the work of now-established writers such as Wendell Steavenson, Peter Hessler, and Eliza Griswold, as well as writing by younger reporters, including Laura Kasinof, Joshua Hersh, and Alexis Okeowo. Many of these journalists have lived much closer to their subjects than American reporters overseas traditionally have, and we’ll look at how that increased intimacy has benefited their work, as well as the difficulties and ethical questions it may have raised. Through our readings, we’ll also examine the challenges of observing social change in an unfamiliar context, and of reporting on beliefs that we may find troubling or even abhorrent. Diminished budgets for overseas reporting, and the near-extinction of staff foreign correspondents, are among the most widely lamented aspects of the crisis in journalism. But there has never been a better time to be a journalism student with a passport and a keen eye for a story.