2019 - Spring: Advanced Reporting: Home (Print/Online track)

Day & Time: Tues 2:00pm-5:40pm
Location: 20CS, Room 653
Course ID: JOUR-UA 301.002
Instructor: Frank Flaherty
Syllabus: Download

Prerequisite: The Beat – Print/Online sections (JOUR-UA 201)

This capstone course is about home, in all its guises. Home is a rich journalistic topic because it sits at the center of human life. It is our shelter and aspiration, it is a major medium of self-expression, and it is the stage where family, love, hate and childhood unfold. Home is where the hearth is and where the heart is.

There are plenty of colorful characters to encounter in the “home” beat. A student might write about a lighthouse keeper and his life of solitude, or about nuns who want to “green” their convent, or about a family that lives on a bobbing houseboat at the Hudson River piers. Maybe you want to report on a historian who is the live-in caretaker at the historic Edgar Allen Poe House, or the doorman at a large co-op who makes the whole place tick, or the young people who live in one of New York’s few remaining all-women hotels.

Because New York teems with immigrants from many countries, and their homes often reflect their rich foreign cultures and values, writing about home in this city has an element of travel journalism, too.

Homes come in all shapes and sizes, just like their residents. There are mansions, nursing homes, squats, artists’ communes, halfway houses, dorms, youth hostels, hospices, beach cabanas, celebrities’ opulent cribs, campsites, and a homeless person’s plywood or sheet-metal shack.  Each of these has its own ethos, its own cast, and its own dramas.

I envision deep reporting for these pieces, so that students can create three-dimensional characters and a strong sense of place. I want to know the basic facts – how many steps are in that lighthouse stairway? – but also the more hidden ones:   “Why do you, a personal trainer by trade, own 25 different biographies of Charles Dickens?”

An article about a person’s home is often also an article about that person. Imagine a young techno geek, gripped by his ambition to launch an Internet startup. He can tell you about his ambition, but his apartment, strewn with software code and cables and no place to sit, can tell you about it, too.   As the saying goes, If you want to really know a person, see how they live.

Homes are always in the news, whether about affordable-housing laws, landlord-tenant battles, tragic fires, or Airbnb controversies.  But ordinary home life also makes for good stories. Maybe you will report on the deep friendship between a homebound elderly woman and the homecare attendant who is her only regular visitor, or a  young couple who are striving to save enough to pass one of life’s milestones:  buying their first home.