2016 - Spring

Journalism Seminar: The Journalism of Empathy

Course Number: JOUR-UA 401.001

Day & Time: Wed 6:30pm-9:00pm

Location: 20 Cooper, 7th floor library (rm. 700)

Instructor: Ted Conover

Empathy is an essential part of modern narrative — what is a literary character, after all, if not an imagining of the the world through someone else’s eyes? But empathy is not exclusively the tool of novelists and playwrights. In our time, journalists such as Alex Kotlowitz, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Anne Fadiman, Jon Krakauer, Susan Orlean, Sebastian Junger, and Katherine Boo (and earlier, John Hersey and others) have used a fiercely empathetic approach to create powerful nonfiction stories, sometimes with social justice concerns. This course will look at the history and recent practice of empathetic nonfiction, using seminal readings as models for your own writing and reporting. In other words, it’s a reading course and an article-writing course: Assignments will require original reporting and offer a chance to experiment with elements of narrative writing such as setting scenes, developing character, dialog, conflict, and, when appropriate, the first person voice.


While you’re reading, you’ll simultaneously be reporting: getting to know somebody, or a group of people, to write about in an empathetic profile of about 2,500 words, plus a revision. There may also be take-home and in-class writing exercises, and/or short papers analyzing the week’s reading..

We’ll read parts of the four books listed below, passages from others, and some articles. You’ll read as writers, with an eye toward understanding how the author did this, what research was required and what choices she made when it came time to put it all on paper. Most weeks, students will make brief presentations that help to guide our discussions of the reading. We will also workshop to assist with revision.

I’ve found that the readings in this course inspire students; my hope is that the examples they present and the issues they raise will help empower you, as a journalist, to do similar kinds of things.