2019 – Fall: Journalism Seminar: Undercover Reporting

Course Number: JOUR-UA 401, section 001

Day & Time: Mon 2:00pm-5:00pm

Location: 20 Cooper Square, room 700

Instructor: Ted Conover

Syllabus: Download

Prerequisite: Journalistic Inquiry: The Written Word (JOUR-UA 101)

Undercover reporting is one of the most potent practices in journalism, and one of the most controversial. Here it will be considered on a continuum with kinds of participatory reporting that have aimed to produce not exposé but rather a deeper, insider quality of understanding. With exceptions, both methods involve immersion and the kinds of ethical stakes that come with one’s subjects either forgetting, or never having known, that one intended to write about them. Using Brooke Kroeger’s authoritative history as a main text (and her online database as a resource), we will consider key works of the past 125 years of American and foreign undercover and participatory reporting in their ethical and literary dimensions.

Students will present texts and historical and critical contexts; participate in in-class debates over the merits of controversial projects such as the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mirage Tavern investigation and John Howard Griffin’s series for Sepia magazine that became Black Like Me; and develop case studies of less well-known reporting not on the syllabus that they evaluate independently in terms of ethics, efficacy, and civic and literary value.