2019 - Spring

Elective Reporting Topics: Covering Politics

Course Number: JOUR-UA 204.003

Day & Time: Thur 11:00am-2:40pm

Location: Room 659

Instructor: Ross Barkan

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

This is a precarious time for covering politics. An unprecedented president who dubs the press “the enemy of the people” occupies the White House. America has arguably not been this polarized since the Civil War. Political reporting is under siege from economic forces—local politics is covered far less than it used to be as more and more people get their news from social media, where misinformation can flourish.

Students will learn the craft of political reporting, how to interview elected officials and people in government, how to make sense of and cover events, and how to distill complex information for the public. In addition to spot news and “straight reporting,” students will learn how to write deep dive features and profiles where they can inject their voices into the pieces.

This is a class that will seek to reinforce why coverage of politics matters and how we can reconnect with readers. Trust in the press is historically low, and was abysmal before Donald Trump even ran for president. Why? What is politics, exactly, and how do we make it matter to the public? How can we best hold power to account? How can we inform the public with facts that actually matter?

We will explore the macro trends that are affecting how politics is covered today. Students will analyze and debate competing approaches to political reporting, from traditional nonpartisan coverage to its most cutting critiques, including takedowns of the “View from Nowhere.” The media is often accused of being biased, either toward liberals or corporate interests. Is this accurate? How do journalists regain trust?

We will also spend time focusing on New York City, where coverage has noticeably shrunk. Over the course of the semester, students will attend local political events, profile a member of the City Council, State Assembly, or State Senate, and learn how to navigate government bureaucracies to get at the truth and hold our government accountable. Students will understand the importance of mastering policy as well as personalities—and how what is conceived as politics impacts everyday life.

Writing assignments will include 750-word profiles of local political figures, 1,000-word stories that capture the intersection of politics and a chosen policy of particular importance to the student, and a 1,500-word final project. Students will also complete mini-assignments as well as classroom exercises that strengthen writing and critical thinking.